Roundup: Stop coveting the CBO

Given the insanity taking place within the Trumpocalypse with the current debate over reforming their health insurance legislation, the Congressional Budget Office’s figures have been at the centre of the debate. Chris Selley penned a column yesterday to praise this island of sanity with the maelstrom, and wonders what a better funded Parliamentary Budget Officer could do in Canada.

To this, I must say nope. Nope, nope, nope.


Why? Because we are already lousy with unaccountable officers of parliament who are usurping the role that MPs are supposed to be playing. As it stands, MPs have already started been fobbing their homework off onto the PBO, and then hiding behind his independent analysis and then using it as their cudgel. It is driven by the impulse that they don’t think they can win the debate on the issues, so they would rather have those officers win it for them, and the PBO is certainly no exception.

But independent officers are not infallible. That F-35 cost figures that Selley cites? While Kevin Page’s figures proved to be in the ballpark, his methodology was haphazard and any defence analyst you asked would tell you as much. And we’ve seen how the Auditor General’s report on the Senate was deeply flawed that both former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie and the lawyer that the Senate hired to review the report could scarcely believe it. And of course We The Media eat it up as well, because it’s “independent” and therefore believable, even when it may not actually be right, and the constant deference to these agents is actually harming democracy.

Yes, we have problems with government giving figures that are useable, and the previous government was masterful at changing the accounting rules constantly to keep everyone, PBO included, from trying to figure them out. That’s a problem, but it’s not one that we should expect the PBO to solve. Rather, MPs from all parties should be demanding clear figures, and should use their powers to compel disclosure, whether it’s on committees or Order Paper questions. The problem is that not enough MPs bother to do it, in part because they don’t actually know that their primary job is to hold the government (meaning Cabinet) to account. And simply excusing their ignorance and appointing an independent officer to do it for them doesn’t fix the problem – it exacerbates it.

Also, quit looking at Washington and thinking that we can import their institutions and practices into our system. I know the CBO was the thought when the PBO was created, but our systems are different, and you can’t just graft a similar model on. Stop trying. We have our own system and processes that we should be focusing on improving, and that starts with educating ourselves about our own processes.

Good reads:

  • Senator Don Meredith’s lawyer made the rounds yesterday, and after saying some really bad things on Power Play got the full Rosie Barton treatment on P&P.
  • Canada is developing cyber-weapons, in case you were concerned.
  • The NDP’s revenue critic wants Canadians to be notified if the IRS accesses their banking information.
  • Federal prosecutors are defending “cruel and unusual punishment” vis-à-vis mandatory victims surcharges, despite the shifting government position on them.
  • CSIS hadn’t been properly briefing ministers on their metadata retention database.
  • The government is allegedly planning to still mention lifelong pensions for wounded veterans in the budget, but still won’t have dollars attached.
  • The government has officially settled with three Arab-Canadians who had been tortured in Syria and Egypt with Canadian complicity.
  • A new report says that the reluctance of security and police agencies to share information hurts corporate security around the country.
  • Here’s a look at how shifting NDP memberships in Alberta and Quebec could play a bigger role in the NDP leadership than in previous races.
  • Drama in the Conservative leadership as Kevin O’Leary alleged improper membership sales – and it turns out he was right.
  • Andrew MacDougall wonders who will have the courage to be a bold leader of the Conservative Party, if Leitch and O’Leary keep sucking up all the oxygen.
  • Supria Dwivedi writes about the tough time that Jagmeet Singh would have in an NDP leadership run in Quebec.
  • Andrew Coyne pens a wonkish opus about how to measure programme spending.
  • Susan Delacourt muses about the issues of civic literacy being a problem for our democratic system and countering populist sentiment.
  • Tabatha Southey takes a second run at Senator Beyak for her comments on the trans rights bill, and rips her apart once again.

Odds and ends:

The Parliamentary Poet Laureate has penned a poem about Viola Desmond at the request of Senator Bernard.

Here are five ways in which the Trumpocalypse has poisioned Canadian political discourse.