Friday, October 30, 2009

Complying with legislation

Well, my layman's reading of the PBO legislation tells me that they have a right to get the information--it doesn't specify the technology.
79.3 (1) Except as provided by any other Act of Parliament that expressly refers to this subsection, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is entitled, by request made to the deputy head of a department within the meaning of any of paragraphs (a), (a.1) and (d) of the definition "department" in section 2 of the Financial Administration Act, or to any other person designated by that deputy head for the purpose of this section, to access at all convenient times to any financial or economic data in the possession of the department that are required for the performance of his or her mandate.
But, in practical reality, I have to think this is a bit contemptuous in spirit.
The Harper government has dumped three box-loads of information about its efforts to stimulate Canada's sputtering economy on Parliament's independent budget watchdog.

Kevin Page had asked for more information, complaining that the sketchy data provided up to now made it impossible to tell whether $12-billion in stimulus spending is having any impact on the economy.

But rather than provide an easy-to-analyze spreadsheet listing infrastructure projects and how much money has been spent on each of them to date, the government flooded Page Thursday with 4,476 pages of documents.

If Parliament wants the PBO to be effective, we need better behaviour than this.

UPDATE: The Halifax Chronicle-Herald has some good quotes:

"We were expecting to get a spreadsheet," Kevin Page, Canada’s parliamentary budget officer, said in an interview Thursday.

"The deputy minister was using a ‘spreadsheet.’ Now it is a spreadsheet. We’re just getting a hard copy. So we’ve asked to get the data electronically. We were turned down. We’re now in the process of figuring how we can turn this hard copy information into an electronic spreadsheet so we can make sense of it."