In Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon examines the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer separate from the current controversy over the incumbent:
Hence the idea of the Office of Parliamentary Budget Officer (OPBO — I’m adopting Kevin Milligan’s usage of OPBO to denote the office, and PBO for the incumbent), modeled on the U.S.’ Congressional Budget Office (CBO). As in Canada, the economists in the U.S. public service are part of the executive branch; the role of the CBO is to provide professional economic policy evaluations to members of Congress. In the U.S., it has become common practice to run policy proposals through the “reality check” service that is the CBO.
The OPBO has yet to establish itself in the way the CBO has, and it has faced an uphill battle from the start. First, too much of the OPBO’s energy has been spent battling the government over access to information. Second, even when it has access to data, the OPBO has to work with a skeletal staff: in addition to PBO Kevin Page, the OPBO consists of two administrative people, two interns and a grand total of twelve analysts. In comparison, the CBO employs some 235 people. This difference cannot be dismissed by pointing to the larger size of the U.S. economy and its government: policy analysis scales. It takes roughly the same amount of work to evaluate a given policy initiative in the U.S. as it would in Canada. And if that wasn’t enough, the impending departure of Kevin Page — who managed to put together a staff capable of producing an impressive quantity of high-quality work despite these constraints — looks to be an existential crisis for the institution.
But the greatest danger to the establishment of an effective OPBO is a great confusion — on the part of both its supporters and its critics — over what the OPBO’s role is supposed to be.
And he recommends the Australian PBO‘s mandate as a preferred model for Canada’s PBO:
So I have a more modest proposal, but one that might help restore the OPBO to the role for which it was originally intended: make it standard practice for the OPBO to cost electoral platforms. There are several reasons why this is a good idea:
- Putting both opposition and government proposals through the OPBO’s costing process will make it easier to remember that the OPBO is non-partisan.
- Knowing that the OPBO will be examining the proposals will oblige all parties to step up their games.