Stephen Harper's Conservatives are attacking Kevin Page, calling into question the fiscal watchdog's impartiality and judgment after he accepted an invitation to attend a Liberal fundraising function.
In a memo to supporters, Tory strategists pose a number of pointed questions that raise doubts about the Parliamentary Budget Officer's character.
"Mr. Page needs to explain how he came to make such a major lapse in judgment," the Tories say. "Why did he feel that speaking to a Liberal Party group was appropriate? Were his travel costs paid from taxpayer funds or was he subsidized by the Liberal Party? Why did he agree to speak at an event intended to raise funds for a partisan organization?"
The Globe reported Tuesday that Mr. Page accepted an invitation to attend a Young Liberal event in Nanaimo, B.C. Event organizers eventually decided to donate proceeds from the evening appearance to a food bank after Mr. Page's attendance raised eyebrows. In the end, he opted not to participate.
"Mr. Page is an official who reports to the Library of Parliament," the Tories argue. "He is supposed to provide non-partisan analysis to assist Members of Parliament in their work representing Canadians. In order for the work of the Parliamentary Budget Office to be effective that office must be above partisan politics."
They go on to note that "accepting an invitation to speak at an event organized by a political party clearly falls short of that standard."
Tories were livid when they heard about this. Dean Del Mastro, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, said the memo was not an attack on Mr. Page. Rather, it is "just wondering, just questioning" what the budget watchdog was thinking.
Mr. Del Mastro told The Globe Mr. Page exercised very poor judgment. "It's obviously concerning that he would commit to something like that and only fold when the media light was shone upon him ... If that hadn't happened this certainly would have moved forward."
Contacted Wednesday, Mr. Page sent The Globe the statement his office issued to organizers Tuesday when he decided he would not attend. The Parliamentary Budget Office, it says, was under the understanding the event would be "open, non-partisan and set up by the University of Vancouver Island."
"Our subsequent examination has found that this premise is no longer valid and as such the PBO cannot participate in this evening's presentation," the statement says. "We regret that this may cause inconvenience for the audience members, for which we apologize to them. Over the last 3½ years, we have been proud to present our work to and collaborate with faculty (and students) at universities across Canada. We do this for both outreach and to ensure scrutiny of the PBO's work."
The statement adds that in keeping with PBO policies, Mr. Page's participation could only take place if the event was "sponsored by the university itself and that there are no fees associated with audience participation."
There is no love lost between Mr. Page and the Tories – even though the watchdog's post is an order in council appointment, which means it requires the Prime Minister's approval. Mr. Page's reports have poked holes in the Conservative government's estimates on everything from how much their crime legislation will cost to infrastructure spending and its deficit predictions.
But Mr. Del Mastro couldn't resist adding that Mr. Page's projections are often wrong, citing a Globe survey of his findings compared to those of the Finance Department.
"Let's be clear these [PBO]financial projections are made in such as way as to grab attention," the Peterborough MP said. "[They]question the work of the Department of Finance and of the Minister of Finance and the position of the government. When these positions are consistently coming up wrong that's obviously a concern. When you see him committing to speaking at a partisan fundraiser, again, alarm bells go off here."