“All I can hold on to is: What is my job?” he said Tuesday in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “And my job is to stand up on behalf of Canadians and say: ‘What the heck are the facts, here? What are you doing with the public finances?' That's why the Parliamentary Budget Officer matters.”Ibbotson is again (like on Saturday) a little skeptical of this strategy, because of what he perceives as the complexity of the issue. It is true, the details are complex, but so are they with every public policy story.
The details of the 'tainted tuna' affair of 24 years ago were also complicated. But that story dominated the media for weeks. (I have an American acquaintance who told me she arrived in Canada during the 'tunagate' media firestorm. Seeing that the biggest problem in our society was what to do about the tuna--that hadn't actually made anyone sick--she decided she had found a fairly safe and nice place to live!) The story was driven not by the details, but by the principles of transparency and accountability; concepts which are easy to grasp.
In any case, if you're going to do a public policy story then this one about the PBO doesn't strike me as hard to get: "The budget watchdog is being muzzled. That oughtta stop."
I'm encouraged by the issue arising in Parliament. Some economists have asked me 'what should we do next?' We have already raised awareness that a large number of economists across the country support the institution of the PBO. However, we are economists, not elected representatives. We can recommend, advise, and cajole; it is up to our elected MPs to act.
While it is great that the Official Opposition has taken up the cause with some vigour, I encourage MPs from other parties to add their voices of support--in public; in the House. I have heard from some of you privately, but hearing your support in the open would be more helpful.
If I have missed recent statements from MPs of other parties, please do pass them along and I'll be happy to post about them as well.
I'll close this post by repeating the call to action in the original Open Letter that was signed by more than 130 prominent economists from coast to coast:
We call on Parliamentarians of every party to pursue the following actions in support of the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer:
- Ensure adequate funding to carry out its mandate
- Independence by making the PBO a full Officer of Parliament
- Public reporting of all analysis.