The Conservative government hasn’t heard the last of Kevin Page.
The first Parliamentary Budget Officer is planning to set up a shadow PBO just blocks away from the Peace Tower at the University of Ottawa.
The ambitious goal is to create an office modelled after the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the United Kingdom that would produce analytical reports on government spending in the same style as what Mr. Page delivered during his five years on Parliament Hill.
The former career public servant – who worked inside government on federal budgets at Finance Canada and the Privy Council Office before his 2008 appointment as PBO – says there’s a continuing public need for that kind of analysis and he’s concerned the official PBO is being sidelined.
The University of Ottawa, led by president Allan Rock, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, is expected to announce Mr. Page next week as the Jean-Luc Pepin Research Chair on Canadian Government.
Mr. Page is hoping to expand that office through fundraising, with the ultimate goal of creating a new institute with a budget of about $2-million a year. He expects to raise revenue through contracts with provincial governments and municipalities and said the institute would also be available for contracts with the federal government or federal opposition parties.
“If we’re going to start tackling big issues [as a country], health-care issues, tax reform issues, you’re going to need some technical expertise to help Parliament and you’re not going to get it from the PBO because it seems the government’s committed to unwinding [the] PBO,” Mr. Page said. “We’ve probably never needed universities more.”
Mr. Page will also teach courses on economics and political studies.
Mr. Rock said in an interview that the timing and shape of any future institute is “a work in progress” that will depend on how much money can be raised.
“We’re so excited about having him join us,” he said. “If he came back and said he’s got funding for an institute that would take on work of that kind, I’m sure he’d find a very supportive environment here at the university.”
Mr. Page, who started at the university last week, said he’d like to hire some of his former colleagues from the PBO to work with him.
“Some of my colleagues that I’ve worked with in the past are interested in coming over and making a go of this,” he said. “This doesn’t exist in Canada right now.”
The Institute for Fiscal Studies in the U.K. is an independent think tank that is often quoted in the British press. It was founded more than 40 years ago and says its goal is “to promote effective economic and social policies by understanding better their impact on individuals, families, businesses and the government’s finances.”
The U.K. Institute operates as a charity and is not connected to a university. Its website says it does accept private and public funding for individual research projects “as long as we are free to publish our findings whether the funder likes them or not.”
The status of the existing PBO has been in limbo since March, when Mr. Page’s five-year term expired. The government has not yet named a replacement for the position. The head of the Library of Parliament, Sonia L’Heureux, has been acting as interim PBO. The Globe previously reported that a search committee sent a list of three candidates to the government in May. It is believed that one of the candidates has since pulled out of the process.
The Conservative government often criticized Mr. Page personally for his approach to the position and questioned his independence. Mr. Page said that criticism is driven by the dynamic between government and opposition.
“I honestly do not feel partisan. There’s this huge misunderstanding,” he said. “If [the Conservatives] were still in opposition, I think we would be incredible friends. They’d be asking me to run. They’d be so proud of the office.”
Relations between the government and the PBO have not improved since Mr. Page’s departure. Ms. L’Heureux recently issued a statement noting that many government departments are refusing to provide her office with requested details related to spending cuts announced in the 2012 federal budget. The dispute could ultimately lead to a second battle in Federal Court to determine the extent of the PBO’s powers.