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Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has been battling to get details of the federal government’s spending cuts (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has been battling to get details of the federal government’s spending cuts (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Politics Today: The clashing visions of PBO and Finance Add to ...

Politics Today is your daily guide to some of the stories we’re watching in Ottawa and across Canada, by The Globe and Mail’s team of political reporters.

The clashing visions of PBO and Finance

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is set to release a new report Wednesday on the long-term sustainability of Ottawa’s finances.

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Throughout most of his five year term – which expires in March – Mr. Page had urged Finance Canada to release long-term projections of Ottawa’s spending and revenue plans. Mr. Page had argued there was a “fiscal gap” that would not be erased simply by a return to normal economic growth.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty long denied the charge, but then his government acted to curb the long-term costs of provincial transfers and spending on Old Age Security. The PBO argued that those moves erased the “fiscal gap” but shifted the burden to the provinces.

In October 2012 in response to calls from the Auditor General to produce such accounting, Finance Canada did release its long-term fiscal projections. Wednesday’s report from the PBO is expected to be a comparison of the reports from PBO and Finance.

- by Bill Curry in Ottawa

For more on the search for Kevin Page’s replacement, read Bill Curry’s report.

CIDA, political graveyard?

Is the International Co-operation portfolio the place where political careers go to die? John Ibbitson takes stock of who’s filled the cabinet role and he’s concerned.

Spence may wind down hunger strike

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is in talks to end her hunger strike on Thursday if other political leaders press ahead, sources tell The Globe and Mail. This may lead to oppositions leaders Thomas Mulcair and Bob Rae working more in concert with a plan crafted by the Assembly of First Nations.

Goodbye, Bill 115

Bill 115 is about to come off the books, but its impact on Ontario will remain unchanged.

The repeal of the controversial legislation that allowed the province to impose new contracts on its teachers, which will come today as Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet meets the final time, is meant as a symbolic gesture. The two-year contracts will stay in place, and because the legislation is time-limited there was never any question of it impacting future deals.

The repeal is in part a somewhat dubious attempt to call the bluff of unions that have insisted ongoing protests are about collective bargaining rights more than the specific restraint measures – including an end to the “banking” of sick days – forced upon their members. It is also aimed at salvaging the legacy of a self-styled “education Premier” who previously took pride in his working relationship with teachers.

Among Liberals, there is some debate about whether the measure will be any help to Mr. McGuinty’s successor. Some argue that, since there was no great urgency to it, he would have been better to leave it to the incoming premier as a way of signalling a break from the current labour unrest.

- by Adam Radwanski in Toronto

Canadians want rules written down

Eighty-four per cent of Canadians want Parliament’s governing conventions written down, according to a survey conducted by Harris/Decima on behalf of Your Canada, Your Constitution.

Most governments have more of their rules written down, but Canada’s long reliance on convention has made it a particular fascination for political scientists. Controversial moves by government, such as calling an election or prorogation, could be clarified in written rules.

But you may be wondering about that overwhelming result from a poll about parliamentary reform, especially with a relatively small response for “I don’t know” (7 per cent). Here is the question respondents were asked:

“Some rules that are part of Canada’s Constitution, that are called ‘constitutional conventions,’ are not written down, and so experts disagree what these rules actually are and whether the rules can be enforced. Experts do agree that the unwritten convention rules cover decisions such as: when the Prime Minister and premiers can open and close parliament; what measures can be included in bills such as budgets; whether a government has lost a vote that should cause an election; whether an election should be called just because a Prime Minister or premier wants an election, and; which political party, or parties, will be the government after an election.

“In most countries in the world, including Britain, Australia and New Zealand, these rules are written down so the powers of their politicians are clearly defined and restricted, and so the rules can be enforced.

“Do you think Canada’s constitutional convention rules should be written down so that the powers of the Prime Minister and provincial premiers are clearly defined and restricted, and so the rules can be enforced? (Strongly agree/Agree/Disagree/Strongly disagree/Don’t know or refused)”

The question was conducted as part of Harris/Decima’s national omnibus survey from Nov. 29 to Dec. 10, 2012, based on a sample of 2,013 Canadians and with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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