Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tories heap scorn on PBO, news at 11

You know, originally I thought this was a mole hill being made into a mountain, here's today's escalation: "Tories heap scorn on budget watchdog’s ‘lapse in judgment’." It's a story that's turned into something a little bigger than the facts at issue here.

Kevin Page is clarifying his prospective attendance at that Young Liberal event in B.C.:
Contacted Wednesday, Mr. Page sent The Globe the statement his office issued to organizers Tuesday when he decided he would not attend. The Parliamentary Budget Office, it says, was under the understanding the event would be “open, non-partisan and set up by the University of Vancouver Island.”

“Our subsequent examination has found that this premise is no longer valid and as such the PBO cannot participate in this evening’s presentation,” the statement says. “We regret that this may cause inconvenience for the audience members, for which we apologize to them. Over the last 3½ years, we have been proud to present our work to and collaborate with faculty (and students) at universities across Canada. We do this for both outreach and to ensure scrutiny of the PBO’s work.”

The statement adds that in keeping with PBO policies, Mr. Page’s participation could only take place if the event was “sponsored by the university itself and that there are no fees associated with audience participation.”
The invite from the Vancouver university is here and it demonstrates that the initial approach to the PBO was non-partisan. It was reasonable for him to consider such an invitation given that he is a public servant, after all, and if the young people of Canada want to hear from him, why not? Mr. Flaherty was speaking at a university yesterday, wasn't he? The issue here for the PBO is that the event seems to have been represented to him as non-partisan when that was not entirely the case. It was a Young Liberal event that was open to the public. So perhaps the PBO should have cross-examined the inviters to a greater extent. But we are talking about a university engagement, let's keep in mind. This wasn't a group of oil industry lobbyists after all that were after him to speak.

What are we to make of the Conservatives jumping all over this? This is a majority government. It's not like they are in the electoral jeopardy and need to elbow for partisan advantage. They don't seem to have made the transition quite completely yet is one conclusion.

It might have something to do with fundraising. Getting a little publicity out of the issue, assuring the perpetual Liberal bogeyman is propped up in the form of a supposedly biased budget officer in cahoots with the mighty Young Liberals! It's not as if they needed to go here, there was an analysis recently of PBO predictions versus theirs that they might have been content to sit with.

It also might be that economic woes could hit us much harder and the Harper government may be shoring up its credibility by ensuring the PBO for one is discredited as a partisan leaner when he does weigh in on budgetary issues. Or it could be a coming report on the cost of their crime agenda as mentioned here.

Whatever the case, this is the kind of incident you'd think a confident, mature, adult majority government wouldn't have to indulge in, that they'd restrain themselves from stoking. Like most things in Ottawa these days, this says much more about the governing party and the political climate they want to create.