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Budget watchdog 'experiencing some frustration'

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page unveils his costing of the Afghan mission at an Ottawa news conference on Oct. 9, 2008.

CHRISTOPHER PIKE/Reuters

Kevin Page is frustrated. The Parliamentary Budget Officer's efforts to study the impact of the $12-billion stimulus spending are being blocked, stymied and thwarted by the Harper government, of which he is no friend.

Last week, Mr. Page, who is an independent officer serving all parties in the House of Commons, asked the government for information about their stimulus spending. What he received was unexpected - three box-loads, containing 4,476 pages of documents.

"It is true - it is a lot of paper," Mr. Page, who is an understated man, wrote today in an email to The Globe and Mail. "We are experiencing some frustration."

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Some? This, while the deputy minister of transport, in charge of the stimulus infrastructure spending, has an electronic spreadsheet containing the information.

In an e-mail to CTV last week, Mr. Page's frustration shone through (as did his sense of sarcasm) as he reflected on the government's tactics: "In the beginning, there was nothing, and then God created light, there was still nothing, but at least you can see it."

After a weekend break, however, Mr. Page is back at trying to shine that light. He wrote today that he has a call into the deputy minister to get the electronic version of all that paper.

And he defended his position: "We recognize that the work we do (involving scrutiny on budgetary issues) and how we do it (a transparent operating model) - is different," he wrote. "We need to be patient but we also need to be allowed to do our jobs … the PBO planned budget for 2009-10 of $2.8-million was cut by a third (down to $1.8-million) nearly a year ago (after we released studies on the cost of Afghanistan and the pending recession and return of budgetary deficits) and we still have not received a signal on whether or when this budget will be returned to its planned level."

Meanwhile, Mr. Page says his office will have to recreate their own electronic version of the stimulus spending if the government will not give it to him. He says officials from municipalities and provinces put information about their projects directly into the database and it is updated regularly. "It would be unfortunate if we have to incur expenses to re-create an electronic version (i.e. a waste of taxpayer dollars)," he writes.

His work continues, however, outside of the thorny issue of infrastructure funding. Later today, Mr. Page will release his latest assessment of the government's overall budget numbers.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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