Roundup: The curious PCO-PBO turf war

There is an interesting piece out from Kathryn May on iPolitics about the turf war going on between the Privy Council Office and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and how that is playing out in the provisions of the budget implementation bill that would create an independent PBO. The PBO blames senior bureaucrats for trying to hobble its future role, and much of it seems to be down to an existential difference of opinion, between whether or not the PBO should exist to give advice to parliamentarians, or to be a watchdog of the government. PCO takes the view that the PBO was designed to offer advice and independent analysis, while the first PBO, Kevin Page, was certainly taking the latter view, which his successor has largely followed suit with. One of the other interesting notes was that the public service would rather the PBO act in more of a fashion like the Auditor General, where he goes back to departments with his figures to check for factual errors, and that it gives them a chance to respond to the report, rather than feeling like they are being constantly “ambushed.”

I am of the view that we run the risk of creating bigger problems if we continue to give the PBO too broad of a mandate, while being unaccountable and only able to be terminated for cause, meaning seven year terms by which they can self-initiate all manner of investigations with no constraints. That will be a problem, given that we already have at least one Independent Officer of Parliament who is going about making problematic declarations and giving reports of dubious quality without anyone calling him to task on it (and by this I mean the Auditor General). And I do think that PCO has a point in that the intent of the PBO was to give independent analysis, particularly of economic forecasts, and I do think that there is some merit to the criticisms that Kevin Page had become something of a showboat and was far exceeding his mandate before his term was not renewed. We have a serious problem in our parliament where we are handing too much power to these independent officers (and other appointed bodies for that matter) while MPs are doing less and less actual work – especially the work that they’re supposed to be doing.

While PCO says that the provisions in the budget bill were to try to “strike a balance” with the role of the PBO, I fear that he’s already become too popular with the media – and by extension the general public – to try and constrain his role, and the government will be forced to back down. Because We The Media are too keen to be deferential to watchdogs (like the Auditor General) and not call them out when they go wrong (like the AG did with the Senate report), I fear that the pattern will repeat itself with the PBO, as it already is with the demands from the pundit class that he be given overly broad powers with his new office. Because why let Parliament do the job it’s supposed to do when we can have Independent Officers do it for them?

Good reads:

  • Rona Ambrose is expected to announce that she is resigning her seat at the end of June, once a new leader is in place, and will take a job at the Wilson Centre in DC.
  • Ambrose’s bill on sexual assault training for new judges was rammed through the Commons with no debate, and now heads to the Senate.
  • Justin Trudeau has recused himself from any hand in selecting the next Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
  • An aid package for those affected by the new softwood lumber duties, including new loan guarantees, is expected to go before Cabinet today.
  • The promised defence policy review will be unveiled after next week’s NATO summit, and after our foreign policy goals are better articulated.
  • While the RMCP watchdog released a report slamming their failed attempts to tackle bullying in the ranks, word has it that Trudeau is looking for a female commissioner.
  • The government’s panel on modernizing the NEB is recommending the Board be scrapped and replaced by two separate agencies.
  • The promised overhaul of the refugee determination system is back on hold while the minister examines more options.
  • The annual report on the state of the civil service shows a growth in temp positions, largely because the hiring process is so cumbersome and takes too long.
  • One of the doctors on the panel advising the government on opioid prescriptions has ties to an opioid producing company, which has Jane Philpott concerned.
  • Philpott, meanwhile, recently granted licenses for two more supervised injection sites, and says 19 more are in the queue.
  • Russian cyber-warfare has been using trolls to spark xenophobic outrage in Latvia, where Canadian troops are stationed, regarding Minister Sajjan wearing a turban.
  • Fertility doctors want the government to overturn the ban on paying for sperm and egg donations, despite the possibility of people looking to make a quick buck.
  • The Senate Ethics Officer is doing a preliminary investigation of Senator Colin Kenny’s use of staff for personal business.
  • John Ivison talks to Lisa Raitt, figuring that she has a chance to beat Justin Trudeau but possibly not Maxime Bernier.
  • Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh is now officially in the NDP leadership race (with some Layton people on his team), but won’t resign his seat in the meantime.
  • Vyas Saran argues that the Greens entering into a coalition in BC could wind up being a poisoned chalice, if history is any guide.
  • Kevin Carmichael writes about the problem with igniting trade wars under the guise of patriotism.
  • Kady O’Malley’s Process Nerd column looks at dealing with Senate amendments.

Odds and ends:

Tristin Hopper plumb’s William Lyon Mackenzie King’s diaries to find that our former PM apparently had a man-crush on Adolph Hitler.

The number of illegal border crossings was down slightly in April.

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