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Budget watchdog optimistic about getting disputed details of federal cost-cutting

Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page appears before the Commons government operations and estimates committee hearing witnesses on the freezing of departmental budgets in Ottawa, Tuesday February 1, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and federal deputy ministers are working behind the scenes to resolve a dispute over government documents that has dragged on for months.

An official with the PBO says "positive" discussions are taking place with the Privy Council Office and deputy ministers to work out a response to the PBO's requests for details on spending cuts announced in recent federal budgets. Mr. Page has been asking for a more detailed breakdown of cost-cutting measures for months. Last week he sent a letter to deputy ministers that set Oct. 10 as the deadline for handing over the information.

Mr. Page has indicated in media interviews that if departments do not comply, he will take the matter to Federal Court to argue that they are not complying with the Parliament of Canada Act, which sets out the PBO's powers to request information from departments.

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A PBO official told the Globe and Mail Wednesday afternoon that the two sides are discussing a deadline extension. The official said Mr. Page likely won't comment on the matter until later this week.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement had suggested over the weekend that Mr. Page was going beyond his mandate. Mr. Clement said the PBO should focus on where the government spends money, not on where it doesn't spend money.

Mr. Clement's director of communications, Andrea Mandel-Campbell, told the Globe Wednesday that the minister's office will not be commenting, saying it is an issue for the the PBO, the PCO and deputy ministers.

A spokesperson for the PCO said they will provide a comment on the issue later Wednesday.

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