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Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page waits to testify before the House Commons finance committee on Tuesday, November 3, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE)
Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page waits to testify before the House Commons finance committee on Tuesday, November 3, 2009. (CHRIS WATTIE)

Fund us or shut us down, budget watchdog says Add to ...

The embattled head of a watchdog the Harper government created to bring about "truth in budgeting" says he's recommending to the Conservatives that they shut down his office unless he gets the full funding he was promised.

Visibly frustrated, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page told MPs yesterday that he's waited 11 months for word that a one-third reduction in his budget would be reversed. He said he needs the cash to retain staff and handle the volume of requests for analysis made by MPs and senators.

"We need a critical mass to do our work. If we don't have that critical mass, it's my recommendation as Parliamentary Budget Officer that the office be shut down," Mr. Page told the House of Commons finance committee.

Mr. Page, a respected economist with a long behind-the-scenes career as an Ottawa bureaucrat, said it's better to shutter his office than to leave Canadians with the false impression that there is adequate scrutiny being brought to bear on government budgets.

He's hoping that supplementary spending estimates, expected to be released by the Conservatives this week, will restore his promised funding.

The watchdog has become a thorn in the Harper government's side by releasing estimates that challenge official forecasts on everything from the cost of the Afghanistan war to the prospect of big deficits. He recently complained that the Tories have made it impossible to verify how much of their planned stimulus spending is generating economic activity.

Mr. Page said he's "deadly serious" about his recommendation that Ottawa pull the plug on his office if it's not adequately funded to the full $2.8-million promised when he took the job. He says he can't do the job properly with the $1.8-million so far officially allotted to his organization.

"A little due diligence can be worse than no due diligence," Mr. Page said.

The Harper Conservatives are trying to distance themselves from the controversy, saying they don't set Mr. Page's budget, which is worked out between the Library of Parliament - where his office is based - and the Speakers of the House and Senate.

Conservative MP Ted Menzies, parliamentary secretary to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, said he thinks Mr. Page is doing a good job with the funding he has now.

"I think that we're seeing adequate resources because he's been able to provide us with the information that we've asked for," he said.

Opposition Liberal finance critic John McCallum says the Conservatives are being misleading. He says Mr. Page could have avoided budget woes if the Tories had made his post a fully independent officer of Parliament like Auditor-General Sheila Fraser, instead of making him an officer of the Library of Parliament.

Plus, he says, the government ultimately decides how much money to grant the Library of Parliament and the Speakers of the House and Senate, which together determine Mr. Page's budget.

A joint Commons-Senate committee in June recommended the Parliamentary Budget Office's budget be raised to $2.8-million as long as Mr. Page complied with other recommendations to avoid overstepping his bounds as an officer of the Library.

A spokeswoman for Commons Speaker Peter Milliken said yesterday he expects the Parliamentary Librarian to implement those recommendations. Parliamentary Librarian William Young was unavailable for comment.

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