Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page says political parties should be releasing independent costing reports on the day they make a campaign promise, rather than waiting until the party’s full platform is unveiled.
“I much prefer the way the Conservatives are doing it,” Mr. Page told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday. “It sets a high bar for transparency and timeliness.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau faced criticism Wednesday for declining to release independent costing estimates of his campaign promises.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Canadians should receive the detailed costing plans on the day promises are made.
Under legislation created by the Trudeau government, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has a new mandate to provide an independent cost estimate of specific campaign proposals. However, the PBO can only publish the reports with the approval of each party.
To date, the PBO has only published reports on Conservative and NDP promises. Those reports have been posted on the same day as those parties made the specific announcements that had been costed by the PBO.
In contrast, the Liberal Party revealed this week that it is only submitting “big ticket” items to the PBO for analysis. The party has also decided that these PBO reports can only be released when the Liberal Party unveils its full platform later in the campaign.
Mr. Scheer criticized Mr. Trudeau’s approach Wednesday.
“We believe that by including the costing at the moment of the announcement, it’s better for Canadians so that they can have the details right away,” said Mr. Scheer during a campaign stop in Hamilton. “Obviously, the Liberals have a terrible fiscal record that they are ashamed of. I believe that’s why they’re not participating in the very process that they themselves set up.”
Mr. Trudeau was in New Brunswick Wednesday, where he made a substantial policy announcement related to enhancing the Old Age Security benefit for seniors 75 and over.
In a news release, the Liberal Party said the increase to OAS will cost $1.63-billion in 2020-21, rising to $2.56-billion in 2023-24. It then states that “further details regarding costing will be released over the course of the campaign.”
No related PBO costing document was released Wednesday. The PBO reports provide more detail, include the cost estimate of a promise by fiscal year over the next decade.
The Liberal Party campaign team told The Globe this week it decided these PBO reports will only be released when the full party platform is released, saying that releasing individual reports “wouldn’t tell the whole story.”
The Liberal government legislated the expanded mandate for the PBO by amending the Parliament of Canada Act as part of a 2017 omnibus budget bill. The changes authorized the PBO to cost individual spending promises upon request, but it did not give the PBO a mandate to review party platforms in their entirety.
This distinction is highlighted in the PBO’s published guidelines.
When asked to comment Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau said the party is using the PBO to cost specific “elements” of its platform.
“One of the commitments we made in the last election was to empower the Parliamentary Budget Officer to be able to actually cost the different political parties’ election platforms and I can assure that we have been and are working with the Parliamentary Budget Officer on costing elements for our platform,” he said. “We will be releasing a fully costed, fully responsible platform in the coming weeks, including all the work done by the Parliamentary Budget Officer on specific measures.”
Mr. Page was the parliamentary budget officer from 2008 to 2013. He is currently the president and CEO of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa. The institute will provide its own assessment of the party platforms once they are released.
Mr. Page noted that there are limitations to the current system. For instance, Mr. Scheer announced on Wednesday that if elected his party would save $1.5-billion a year by reducing federal funding on corporate subsidies.
The related PBO document simply restates the promise and does not provide any additional analysis. Mr. Page said that could give Canadians the false impression that the PBO agrees that the Conservatives can find that amount of savings in that area.
“I don’t think the PBO should have put their name on that,” Mr. Page said.
With files from Michelle Zilio in Fredericton and Janice Dickson in Hamilton