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News Release

Democracy Watch Calls on Federal Joint Committee to Approve of Parliamentary Budget Officer’s Past Actions, and to Recommend Key Changes to Increase PBO’s Powers, Funding and Independence

Thursday, May 28, 2009

OTTAWA - Today, as the federal Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament meets to consider its report on the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), Democracy Watch called on the Committee to ensure its report finds the PBO has acted properly and within his legal mandate so far, and recommends increased powers, funding and independence for the PBO to ensure he can do his job in the future without further harassment.

“The Parliamentary Budget Officer has clearly acted within his legal mandate in preparing and releasing reports so far, but the law needs to be strengthened and clarified to ensure that no one can threaten the PBO with dismissal or funding cuts for unjustifiable reasons, and to ensure that government institutions provide the PBO with the information he needs to do his job,” said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.

“The Parliamentary Budget Officer must be given the powers, funding and independence to ensure government spending statements are accurate because the track record of similar agencies in other countries has shown that their accurate information not only increases government accountability and the quality of public policy debates, but also saves much more money than these watchdog agencies cost,” said Conacher.

The PBO’s powers, funding and independence must be increased in the following ways:
  • changing subsection 79.1(2) of the Parliament of Canada Act to allow dismissal of the PBO only for “cause” (currently, the Act states that the PBO serves at the “pleasure” of Cabinet and can be dismissed at any time for any reason, which greatly undermines the PBO’s independence (and breaks the Conservatives' election promise to establish an independent PBO)); 
  • adding a new subsection to section 79.2 of the Act (or enacting a regulation under sections 74.2 and 79.2) requiring the PBO to release his reports to the public at the same time he gives them to an MP, senator, parliamentary committee, the House of Commons or Senate (currently, the Act is not specific about when and how the PBO’s reports should be made public);
  • adding a new subsection to section 79.3 of the Act that gives the PBO the right to a quick injunction hearing in Federal Court if the head of any government institution refuses to comply with the PBO right under the Act “to free and timely access to any financial or economic data in the possession of the department that are required for the performance” of the PBO’s mandate (NOTE: there are many exemptions in the Act to the PBO’s right of access to data, so the court hearing would determine whether the institution must give the data to the PBO);
  • adding a new subsection to section 79.3 of the Act that gives the Federal Court the power to penalize the head of any government institution that the court determines has unjustifiably refused to give the PBO requested data, and;
  • adding a new section to the Act ensuring the PBO’s funding must match the funding levels of similar agencies in other countries (proportional to the size of the Canadian economy and amount of federal government spending) -- essentially, this would increase the PBO’s funding to somewhere between $5-10 million annually.

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For more information, contact:
Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: 613-241-5179

Democracy Watch's Voter Rights Campaign


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