Statement made on 20 November 2008 by Senator Joan Fraser
Hon. Joan Fraser:
Honourable senators, my question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate from, as she often reminds me, an even older media hand.
In its 2006 election platform, the Conservative Party promised that a Conservative government would "create an independent Parliamentary Budget Authority to provide objective analysis directly to Parliament."
That promise was more or less kept with the arrival of the Federal Accountability Bill. We all remember that extraordinary bill, in which there were more elements than one could count in a month of Sundays, but the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer was included in it. Although he was made an officer of the Library of Parliament rather than of Parliament, that was presented largely as an administrative matter without any suggestion that his independence or freedom would be circumscribed in any way. The independence of the office appeared to be confirmed when the first Parliamentary Budget Officer was appointed, and the Honourable Peter Van Loan, the then Minister of Democratic Reform, said that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is an independent officer of the Library of Parliament, who reports to the Speakers of both chambers.
Since then, however, we have learned that the Speakers of both chambers have written in a formal letter, that, in their view, it is the will of Parliament that the officer shall not report directly to the Speakers but rather shall report directly to the Parliamentary Librarian. I can see, upon rereading the legislation, why the Speakers said that — because there it is in the law. However, many parliamentarians would be a little more surprised by the Speakers' conclusion that this means that the budget officer should work in a manner consistent with the practices and service standards that have been developed by the Library of Parliament. As we know, there has been some recent indication of conflict. The library's normal practices and standards do not involve the automatic publication of all work done by the library's estimable research service.
Even though the Parliamentary Budget Officer is sticking to his guns, as we saw this morning, is the government prepared to finally fulfill its 2006 promise by making clear either administratively or, if necessary, with a legislative amendment, that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is truly an independent officer and that his work does not have to be vetted by anybody — certainly, not the Parliamentary Librarian — before it is made public?
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