Monday, July 27, 2009

The private sector chimes in

I've been on vacation, so I'm just now catching up with some of the stories about the OPBO.

An interesting one in today's Hill Times. Douglas Porter of BMO says that the OPBO is important because of the lack of credibility of numbers that come through the political filter.
The government's economic reports and forecasts have become too politicized and there should be a source of impartial numbers on the economy and country's finances, says Douglas Porter, Deputy Chief Economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Mr. Porter said the economic numbers put out by the Congressional Budget Office in the United States are more detailed and trustworthy than what is typically available in Canada. The CBO, which was founded 35 years ago, is well established in the U.S. political landscape and has a solid reputation for "high-quality, low-profile work." Its numbers provide a solid basis for debate on economic matters.

"The whole process in Canada has just become so political," Mr. Porter said. "Every budget number, even when we had a surplus, is used as a target by the opposition or a bragging point for the government. And unfortunately that just made the whole process a little less useful to analysts in general, because we don't know for a fact that the latest estimate is a true estimate, and how much of it is a political message."
Mr. Porter is not entirely uncritical of the OPBO, though:
Mr. Porter said that although the Parliamentary Budget Officer—a new, smaller entity which was created to serve a similar purpose to the CBO—is doing a "solid job" as far of the analysis it has provided, it hasn't had a long enough track record to tell whether it is truly reliable. He said he would prefer the PBO, which since its inception last year has been a constant source of headlines because of its provocative reports and ongoing disputes with the government over its mandate, "turned down the volume a bit" and maintained a lower profile like its American counterpart.
That's fine. I didn't sign the open letter to defend every operational decision that has been made at the OPBO. I signed it because I think the changes proposed by the committee would leave the OPBO unable to fulfill its potential.