Newspaper article The Canadian Press

International Community Watching Canada's PBO Battle with Interest, Says Page

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

International Community Watching Canada's PBO Battle with Interest, Says Page

Article excerpt

Canada an outlier on PBO info access: Page


OTTAWA - Some international observers have expressed shock at the difficulties Canada's parliamentary budget office has had prying information from the government, says the departing Kevin Page.

Independent budget officials from 22 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development are holding their two-day annual meeting for the first time in Canada, where they are sharing best practices and experiences in a fast-growing field.

Observers from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are also on hand.

The sessions, closed to the media at the behest of the OECD, cover everything from "budget oversight under minority (and coalition) governments" to the benefits of long-term, 50-year fiscal projections.

But a session on accessing government information Thursday afternoon cut to the heart of debates over Canada's fledgling parliamentary budget office.

Page, appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is about to end his five-year term as Canada's first PBO and is currently taking the Conservative government to court over its refusal to release information on billions of dollars in departmental spending cuts from last year's federal budget.

"'You're kidding me, you can't do that in any other country,'" Page, the chairman of this year's meeting, said he was told by some counterparts from abroad. "They're shocked."

Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States all gave presentations on accessing information.

"Our experience has been rougher, and there are people talking about it now as we speak," Page said.

The Congressional Budget Office in Washington reported that it has a relationship developed over decades with mid-level government officials that freely share government data, while the Office for Budget Responsibility in the U.K. reported it has been "positively surprised" by its access demands.

Page said the international community is watching the Canadian experience with interest.

"People know, they've seen from a distance that we've struggled a little bit," he said.

And if anyone in the meeting room missed the message, they were sure to get an earful at dinner Thursday evening: Pat Martin, the NDP firebrand and chairman of the House of Commons government operations and estimates committee, was the scheduled guest speaker. …

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