Thursday, September 24, 2009

Response in defence of Library of Parliament Committee

In Monday's Hill Times, there was a response to last week's piece by Jean-Marc Tremblay. The article is here, but it is subscription only. The response is from B. Thomas Hall, who is identified as a past clerk to the Library of Parliament Committee.

Mr. Hall disputes many of Mr. Tremblay's claims about the Committee and the OPBO.

It is clear that Mr. Tremblay used some sharp--perhaps overly so--language in his piece last week. This generates the content of much of Mr. Hall's response.

However, the general thrust of Mr. Hall's argument is about the interpretation of the current law and how the PBO should act in order to be in compliance with the current law. I don't have any particular insight about the interpretation of the law, but I do observe that interpretations do seem to differ.

The question that interests Mr. Hall is how the PBO should behave in order to be in compliance with the law. That is an important issue--people should follow laws. No question there.

What interests me, however, is a different question: what should the OPBO look like? My observation having been a consumer of data from budget offices from other countries is that a greater degree of independence seems to be a good thing. I like that they can have a website and a blog and communicate things directly to citizens without the direct oversight of a Parliamentary Committee or the Librarian of Parliament. If that is not possible under the current law, then the current law should be changed.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Does the OPBO have the right to make its research public?

The signatories of the open letter in support of the OPBO demanded that the Officer be allowed to report his research directly to the public.

Senator Carstairs of the Library of Parliament Committee has accused the Parliamentary Budget Officer of breaking the law. A recent piece in the Hill Times by retired public servant Jean-Marc Tremblay argues, on the other hand, that the Officer does have the right to make the research public under the existing law. Here is a partial link to the article--it's subscriber only. But here is a taste of the argument.
In [a previous Hill Times] article, Sen. Carstairs claims that Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page does not have the right to make his reports public and that he "should respect the law and the job description under which he was hired."

It is unfortunate and ironic that the Library of Parliament Committee members and the co-chair (Sen. Carstairs) have unanimously arrived at such ridiculous conclusions, for even a cursory read of the Federal Accountability Act does not reveal any such requirement on the Parliamentary budget officer to not make reports public. Maybe Sen. Carstairs could have spent a bit more time analysing the irony of her statements—that the Parliamentary budget officer, mandated to ensure accountability and transparency, should be less transparent and less accountable, and not release reports publicly.


Sen. Carstairs' statement that the Parliamentary budget officer should respect the law is also curious; because it is a direct accusation that he violated the law. How ironic that a kangaroo court be set up against the PBO, without any fair trial comes to this conclusion, without citing any legal opinion from any legal counsel; when one of the country's top legal firms, McCarthy Tetrault has opined that the PBO is in no violation of the Parliament of Canada Act or the Federal Accountability Act, and that nobody can use administrative controls, such as those imposed by the committee in its reports to triumph the spirit of the legislation. If Sen. Carstairs really means what she is saying, then it would be more appropriate for her to seek legal recourse.
Mr. Tremblay argues that the mandate to stop making things public is an administrative decision made by the Committee; a choice they have made rather than one mandated by law. He argues, in rather salty language, that this was a questionable choice. I am a layman in the matter of law, but my reading of the Federal Accountability Act Section 119 does not find anything that requires the Officer to refrain from making reports public.