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Politics Federal Liberals seeking new Parliamentary Budget Officer

Jean-Denis Fréchette says he will not be applying to stay on as Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer as Ottawa launches a competition to find a new spending watchdog.

The new PBO will head straight into the line of fire, given that the office now has an expanded mandate to provide political parties with costing analysis − upon request − for potential promises that will be made during the 2019 election campaign.

The Privy Council Office has posted a competition for the position and the application deadline is April 19. The salary range is between $174,700 and $205,500.

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“We will continue to search for Canadians who reflect the values that we all embrace: inclusion, honesty, fiscal prudence and generosity of spirit,” the government states in the job posting.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Fréchette, 61, said there are several reasons for his decision not to apply for the posting, including the fact that the term has been changed from five years to seven.

“I already told PCO that I will not apply for my own position,” he said. Mr. Fréchette’s five-year term ends on Sept. 3.

“It has passed by very, very quickly. When you have fun and you do a job that I think is important for Parliament and parliamentarians and the Canadian public, then I think things go very fast,” he said.

The federal government passed legislation last year that made the PBO an independent agent of Parliament, giving it the same arm’s-length status as positions like the Auditor-General and the Access to Information and Privacy Commissioners.

The position of PBO was initially created by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government as a division of the Library of Parliament. Last year’s legislative changes include a requirement that the head of the PBO must have expertise in federal or provincial budgeting.

Mr. Fréchette said the highlights of his term were securing the independence of the office and a successful, long-running battle with the Canada Revenue Agency that will allow the PBO to release an upcoming report on what is known as the “tax gap,” meaning the difference between the amount of taxes owed and the amount of taxes that are actually collected by the government.

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The federal Liberals have struggled to make timely appointments to replace departing officers of Parliament. Given that the next PBO will play an important new role in the 2019 campaign, Mr. Fréchette said he has already urged the government to move quickly.

“I don’t think it’s fair for either the office or parliamentarians and political parties to have someone that will come late next year,” he said. “So they’re moving quickly. I’m hopeful that they will find someone − if not the spring, then at least in the fall. I can stay a couple of [extra] months, but ... not a year.”

Mr. Fréchette, who had previously spent most of his career as an economics researcher with the Library of Parliament, is the second person to act as a permanent PBO. The first PBO, Kevin Page, was a former senior federal public servant.

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