Parliament’s new budget watchdog says he’s out of options – already

Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit. Pawel Dwulit/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It seems the newly-appointed federal budget watchdog believes he’s out of options when it comes to getting information about last year’s budget cuts.

In a letter to NDP leader Tom Mulcair, Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette – who got the job last Friday – says he has “exhausted the apparent avenues” for obtaining data from the government.

“It appears that my predecessor and I have exhausted the apparent avenues available for obtaining the data required for my staff to undertake the requested analysis,” Frechette writes in response to a letter sent by Mulcair earlier this week.

About 30 departments have refused to provide information about cost-saving plans related to cuts made in budget 2012.

This is the information Frechette’s two predecessors – inaugural PBO Kevin Page and interim PBO Sonia L’Heureux – have been seeking for more than a year.

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Frechette says his team continues to seek “alternative remedies to the current impasse.” He adds he is “exploring different means by which to address future failures to provide information.”

Frechette just doesn’t elaborate on what the alternative remedies or the different means are.

Before Frechette was appointed last week, PBO officials began filing access to information requests in an effort to obtain data, effectively skirting the office the Conservatives set up in the name of accountability.

In a letter of response to Frechette sent Friday, Mulcair asks for a more detailed explanation of Frechette’s efforts, as well as what additional “remedies” he plans to take.

Mulcair points out that a federal court judge said in April that the PBO is legally entitled to free and timely access to financial and economic data. The PBO would also have recourse with the courts, Mulcair adds.

“Given the PBO’s statutory obligation to obtain this data, the Federal Court’s decision outlining their role in enforcing legal obligation, and the fact a judicial review could happen in a timely manner, I would like to know if you are working on taking this impasse back to court in order to fulfil your obligations,” writes Mulcair.

“If you are not considering taking this back to court to seek a remedy and defend your mandate, I would appreciate learning the reasons behind that decision.”

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There are already reports that the new PBO will be a gentler sort than Page.

And with Frechette already using terms such as “exhausted avenues,” and “future failures,” it makes one wonder how far the new PBO is willing to go.


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