Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has been generating a lot of controversy in Ottawa, and much of the discussion is over what his role should be. A group of Canadian CEOs polled by COMPAS Inc. wants him to focus less on economic projections. The 117 respondents also gave him a lukewarm grade for his performance to date.
Page most recently released a five-year economic outlook for Canada, but the respondents to the COMPAS survey weren’t convinced of the value of such a report when many private-sector institutions provide their own analyses. “Why do we need them?” asked one panelist. “We have lots of alternatives.”
Slightly less than half of the respondents agreed, however, that economic forecasts should be a part of the PBO’s job. That’s because those supplied by the Department of Finance, as one put it, have a “history of being misleading and politically motivated.” Another respondent wrote that “in a parliamentary democracy, it is essential that we have as many counter-balancing viewpoints as possible.”
Even so, the panelists believe the economic effects of a cap-and-trade policy and the proposed financial support for auto companies are more important issues to focus on than the general outlook for the economy. The financial requirements for First Nations schools, a topic Page recently investigated, received the lowest amount of support among the CEOs. (Page’s work is largely directed by requests from members of Parliament, and he has said his constrained budget prevents him from taking on certain requests.)
The respondents gave Page a score of 57 out of 100 for his performance to date, which COMPAS notes is a mediocre grade typically earned by politicians in previous polls.
“Page is blowing a major opportunity to create a viable Parliamentary Budget Office,” wrote one respondent. “He should stick to a modest role and build his capacity and credibility before starting fights.”
“Another government body parking lot to be as ignored as the Congressional Budget Office in the U.S. by the politicians,” wrote another. “Its contribution is of doubtful value.”
But the PBO did find some support among the respondents. “We do need an independent body that can deliver the proper state of fiscal affairs untainted by political considerations,” said one panelist. “We also need a body that can take budgets and relate them against actual performance, no different than corporations do.”