MPs find too much openness and accountability on the Hill
July 26, 2009 – Edmonton Journal
By Sean Bruyea, Freelance
While Canadians die in an effort to bring transparent and accountable government to Afghanistan, Canada's government is waging a war to suppress transparency and accountability in Ottawa.
The target of our government's rage: the parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page. Far too many in government are calling to restrict his power, limit his budget or even have Page removed when the exact opposite should be happening.
The Parliamentary Budget Office was created by the current federal regime to counteract the secrecy in Ottawa which has for too long been a stain upon Canada's good, but sometimes unwarranted, reputation as an open and accountable democracy.
The Parliamentary Budget Office's goal is to provide "authoritative, non-partisan financial and economic analysis to support Parliament...in ensuring budget transparency." Key to "budget transparency" is that all of the office's analyses will be "openly reported" and "freely accessible to all."
Except many in Parliament feel that what Kevin Page writes belongs first to Parliament; then, Parliament will decide what to tell Canadians.
It has become a truism that politicians and bureaucrats never impose austerity upon themselves. Canada's politicians and bureaucracy are bound by such ugly political realities while they all congratulate themselves for how they have managed the financial crisis in Canada.
This is where our parliamentary budget officer brings transparency to self-congratulatory egos.
Page believes that Canada will be reaching into the pockets of our children by piling on more than $159 billion of debt between now and 2014.
Page's report contradicts the Finance Department...and the private sector believes Page's reports are more accurate.
Conservatives and Liberals alike have been calling to muzzle Page and his office. Parties of both sides have been attacking his efforts to inform all Canadians how government spends our money.
Unbelievably, opposition MP Liberal Carolyn Bennett said that Page has behaved as if the reports were his property. What a curious accusation since most level-headed Canadians would likely come to the opposite conclusion.
Is it not the politicians and bureaucrats who have been acting like our money is theirs to spend as they wish? Is it not government which all too frequently has been avoiding accountability and keeping truth from the public they ostensibly serve?
Yes politics and government bureaucracy are far too dirty for most Canadians. We don't know who or what to believe. Canadians are losing interest in democracy precisely because of this. All the more reason for Canada to protect the likes of the Parliamentary Budget Office, which makes government spending more transparent for Canadians and parliamentarians, should they be willing to listen.
Recently, 138 leading Canadian economists signed a petition to ensure that Page's office is given the resources and powers to do his job of ensuring transparent and accountable spending in our government. The economists, for once, are correct. Page should be given greater resources and made an officer of Parliament with similar powers as the auditor general. And all officers of Parliament should deliver their reports to the Canadian public and parliamentarians as soon as the reports are completed.
Transparency and openness are one of the few areas which must be viewed in black and white. Either Canada has an open and transparent government or we don't. Once meddling, intimidation or special interests interfere to obscure or hide facts, the slippery slope becomes all too steep. Without transparency and openness, government cannot be accountable.
Politicians and bureaucrats need to stop making Ottawa an end in itself. Government does not belong to politicians or to the bureaucracy. It belongs to and must serve all Canadians.
The Parliamentary Budget Office is a model for Canadian and democratic values of openness and good governance, providing a window for all Canadians as to how our government spends our money. If Canadians are as truthful and honest as we like to believe, why are we allowing political and bureaucratic interests to chip and chop away at a necessary institution like the Parliamentary Budget Officer?
Canada has lost more than 100,000 lives protecting such fundamental freedoms in horrific wars. More than 130 brave young men and women have lost their lives and possibly thousands of others are physically and psychologically scarred for life in an attempt to bring similar governing principles to Afghanistan.
Should politicians and bureaucrats succeed in silencing brave public servants like Page who are truly serving the public, one must ask why have so many Canadians died or been lost to injuries when our own country tries to obscure transparency, and make a government devoid of accountability?
Make permanent Page's Parliamentary Budget Office by making him an officer of Parliament.
No politician or bureaucrat should be allowed to selfishly hobble the truth because they wish to hide how our government spends our money in our country.
Sean Bruyea is freelance writer and a disabled soldier who served 14 years with the Canadian Forces.