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The more independence, the more accountability.

I respect Carolyn Bennett; she was on the side of those Liberals who wanted electoral reform in the 2007 Ontario MMP referendum, and she has excellent credentials on health care in Canada, as she’s also a doctor, but like some other Liberal bloggers, I’m going to have to disagree with her stance on Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which can be summarized as thinking Kevin’s getting too big for his britches and needs to be reigned in.

I disagree: The only thing that is now forcing Flaherty and Harper to put out real numbers on what the Budget deficit will be is because of Kevin Page and the Parliamentary Budget Office. That’s not called getting out of control, that’s called accountability. I think the PBO should be given as much of an independent mandate as possible, not less.

It appears to me that unfortunately, Dr. Bennett is thinking about the possibility that the PBO could embarrass a Liberal government if returned to power with that same accountability they are now forcing the Conservatives to have, as are some of her Liberal blogging supporters such as James, whose arguments I entirely reject. There is nothing wrong with an independent body or person keeping a government honest and on it’s toes. Furthermore, independent officers will have a lot more credibility with the public then the opposition parties, whose attacks will always be fairly or unfairly viewed in the partisan lens.

In the case of Kevin Page, this is about making the government of the day more accountable and forcing it to be more transparent with its Budget numbers, rather then just using smoke and mirrors to hide something. Furthermore, because his reports are from a neutral non-partisan body – that lends credibility.

Liberals should be embracing this, not joining the Conservatives in trying to muzzle an inconvenient truth or 2 in the Finance Department. I know that I’ve seen statements elsewhere that say the Liberal Party is officially on board with the PBO’s role and supporting its independence, and that Ms. Bennett may be issuing only her own personal opinion, but its a little disconcerting we have some prominent Liberals publicly questioning the PBO’s role.


3 comments to The more independence, the more accountability.

  • Roll Tide

    In the US, the congressional budget office plays a similar role. They came in the news by stating that the Obama “stimulus” will actually make the economy worse over ten years. A view history supports.

  • Frunger

    The problem with ‘non-partisan’, ‘independant’ watchdogs is that political parties are happy with them so long as they don’t make their party look bad. It’s sort of like the Liberals being ok with Sheila Frasor before the Sponsorship thing. Bennett is just seeing the possible future headaches Page could cause to a Liberal government.

    As a Conservative, I don’t have a problem with Kevin Page right now. He’s not towing the party line (which I neither want or expect from him). All he’s doing is peering in to the his murky crystal ball like most economic commentators and making his best guess. For Liberals to cheer him on with his predictions of doom and gloom is pretty opportunistic and, well, political.

    History will prove whether he or David Doge is closer to the eventual truth, but the reality is that whatever happens, we should be weary of proclaiming them the next Nostrodamus(sp?) because of it.

    People get fooled by randomness all the time. If 100 people predicted the outcome of 6 successive coin flips, 1 or 2 of theme are going to get it right, but it doesn’t mean they were any smarter than the others that didn’t.

    Take that approach when judging the usefulness of economic predictions, considering in this case people are falling into only two camps.

    “It’s going to get a lot worse”
    “We’re about half way through this.”

  • Jason Townsend

    The problem from my point of view is that non-partisan offices are only as good as their non-partisan officers. South of the border, for example, the United States Office of the Independent Counsel existed from 1978 to 1999 as an independent watchdog over executive power: not a terrible idea, but in the hands of Kenneth Starr…

    Non-partisan solutions can accomplish things. I’m eternally thankful that the commonwealth model of electoral district management is non-partisan and avoids the sort of bizarre partisan or bipartisan gerrymandering seen in the US. But I wonder just how prominent they can be without risking inevitable politicization, if only because the people they attack will characterize them as witch-hunters.

    It may be that they’ve only succeeded (as in the case of Sheila Fraser and Kevin Page) because their targets were simply too weak, since the Chretien-Martin transition, to go to political war with them.

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