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Canada's first parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, is pictured in April, 2012. The position is currently held on an interim basis by Sonia L’Heureux. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Canada's first parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, is pictured in April, 2012. The position is currently held on an interim basis by Sonia L’Heureux. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Budget watchdog loses senior analyst to former PBO Kevin Page Add to ...

One of the most senior members of the Parliamentary Budget Office is leaving to work for his old boss, Kevin Page.

Sahir Khan – one of two assistant parliamentary budget officers – is joining Mr. Page at the University of Ottawa, where a new office of fiscal studies will produce analytical reports on government spending similar to those of the PBO.

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Mr. Khan has worked at the centre of power in the public service. At the Privy Council Office, he advised Prime Minister Stephen Harper on budget and spending issues. Before joining the public service, Mr. Khan was a restructuring specialist for Deloitte Consulting in New York.

Mr. Page – Canada’s first PBO – recommended Mr. Khan as one of three potential successors when his five-year term expired in March. The Conservative government instead appointed Jean-Denis Fréchette, an economist who has spent the past 27 years with the Library of Parliament.

“I wish to thank my colleagues and clients for making the last five years among the best of my professional career. I wish the new PBO, Jean-Denis Fréchette, all the best as he develops and implements his vision to support parliamentarians and Canadians with financial and economic analysis,” Mr. Khan said in a departing email on Friday.

In an interview, Mr. Khan said he felt it was important to let the new PBO put his own stamp on the office and that he is excited to start something new with Mr. Page.

“We have that feel of a start-up,” he said. “There’s a potential to build something that’s lasting and hopefully with impact.”

Of the other two senior PBO staffers Mr. Page recommended, only Mostafa Askari – the other assistant PBO – remains with the office. Chris Matier, who was senior director of economic and fiscal analysis and forecasting, has left for a position with the Bank of Canada.

The loss of such experienced senior staff will be a challenge for Mr. Fréchette, given that he does not have personal experience working inside federal departments.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Page said the government’s decision to appoint a PBO who has not worked on budgets is akin to appointing an auditor-general who has never done an audit. He said Mr. Fréchette can succeed, but will need to recruit staff with the experience he lacks.

Mr. Page said he and Mr. Khan are looking forward to working together on a new office that could perform PBO-like analysis for a wide range of clients. He envisions an office that would provide independent analysis on the cost of potential programs for provincial governments, and even other national governments and international organizations. It is not clear yet how much of Mr. Page’s work will focus on the federal government. He will also teach courses on public finance. The concept for the institute is still in its infancy, and will require a significant amount of fundraising by Mr. Page and the university.

Mr. Khan said he expects he will help Mr. Page develop course work.

It is an unusual arrangement for a post-secondary institution, but university president Allan Rock told The Globe and Mail earlier this year that if Mr. Page can raise the money to finance an institute, he would find “a very supportive environment.”

Mr. Page is clearly excited about his first major hire.

“He’s a brilliant financial analyst,” he said of Mr. Khan. “I just find him a lot of fun to work with and just a high-impact-type person. I think he’s fantastic for the University of Ottawa because we’re going to need to build something again.”

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