Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Monday, December 31, 2012

Please Don't Go, Kevin

Earlier this year when I had my conversation with Kevin Page there was a little detail that, if you were like me, didn't even really hit home at the time - a very relevant factoid that will have profound implications for the next 3 years.

Mr. Page's mandate runs out in March of 2013.  Furthermore, after his mandate, Mr. Page will be retiring.

Now, if you're embedded in the game, this comes as little shock - apparently Mr. Page has been vocal from the get-go that one term would be enough.

And in my (many) follow-up conversations with the man since my last interview he's been more than adamant that he is not the position, that there are wonderful, talented, strong people working along side him who are ready to fill his shoes once he leaves.  That he feels that he can do so much more on the outside of the position, where he could be free to speak honestly of the nature of the PBO and the 'bad legislation' that created the position.

And that's all well and good -- except for one little thing:
The Parliamentary Budget Officer serves at "the pleasure" of the Prime Minister [PDF Warning, but excellent read!]

From the article:
"Under the current legislation, for instance, the Parliamentary Budget Officer serves "at the pleasure" of the Prime Minister, a constraint by which no other officer of Parliament is bound, and one that could promise serious consequences for a PBO whose independent fiscal analysis displeased the PM."

Considering that Mr. Page and this arms length, incredibly useful office -- that was created to ensure that our government is not only transparent to Canadians but to itself as well -- is currently taking our government to court in order to get the information needed to do his job, well, I feel pretty safe in saying that our PBO is not currently serving 'at the pleasure' of our PM.

There's a fantastic read over at Huffington Post -- where they recently named Kevin Page "Canada's News Story of 2012" -- and if you care at all about what the next three years of our government will look like, I encourage you all to take a moment and give it a read.

But the long and short of it is this:

The way the legislation that created the position worked, the way it placed the PBO under the Library of Parliament -- forgoing giving the position true independence to the point where, if I remember correctly, they're not even allowed to hire their own staff -- it became known as the job 'nobody wanted'.

The idea was great on paper, but the execution was flawed.  And flawed by design.

The reason we're even talking about the PBO at all is because Kevin Page took this job... and then built the office from the ground up.  His integrity and determination, his refusal to quietly sit in the corner and count the beans that were handed to him -- his drive to be truly USEFUL to Canadians and our Parliament, pushed him to tackle important issues like the F35 scandal.

F-35 jets cost to soar to $29B: watchdog

He was the first one to come forward and say 'these numbers don't add up to what we've been told'.  And what did he get for that?  Ridicule and attacks from the very Government that hired him to hold them accountable.  Only after the Auditor General came forward and backed up those numbers was the PBO 'vindicated'.

Auditor general slams Canada’s plan to buy F-35 jets

I'd like to share with you Mr. Page’s opening statement to the government operations and estimates committee (on the topic of reforming the estimates review process) -- the first words from the man and a hint of what was to come:

"One of the key principles underlying responsible parliamentary government is that the House of Commons holds the “power of the purse”. The House must be able to satisfy itself, as the confidence chamber, that all spending and taxation is consistent with legislation, Parliament›s intentions, and the principles of parliamentary control. When this is accomplished, Parliament is serving Canadians. In my view, this is rarely accomplished." -- Source

In March of 2013 our Prime Minister will stand with the rest of Parliament and applaud this man publicly for a job well done, even as he continues to fight and stonewall the position that he created, as he fights to keep information out of the PBOs hands, and thus out of the hands of Canadians.

But what will happen when Mr. Page leaves?

Will the PBO be quietly folded into another department like our CSIS watchdog was?  Scuttled to the dustbin like some sort of failed experiment?

Or will he appoint quiet 'yes-man' to the post? A bean-counter happy to work only the projects handed to him/her and never, ever speak out against the Prime Minister.

Because if there's one thing we know about our PM it's that he really, really, doesn't like having his feet held to the fire.

Having to be held accountable for answers to questions like 'why are you keeping two sets of books on the F35 purchase -- one for internal estimates and one for public release?' don't help him.

So while Mr. Page says that he works alongside a number of talented, strong people who are ready to fill his shoes after he leaves, I have to wonder: Why would our Prime Minister choose any of them?

He's going to want someone who will play ball.

And yet, in my view, the PBO has been successful because it has been so adversarial.  It shouldn't exist to make friends or serve 'at the pleasure' of anyone.

The PBO exists for Canadians, to ensure that those who are voting in Parliament have access to all of the information necessary to make an informed decision.

It exists to ensure the 'Transparency and Accountability' that our Prime Minister promised us (and quickly backpedaled on).

Mr. Page will be retiring after his mandate in 2013 so the task must fall on us to demand that someone of equal caliber is appointed.

To ensure that the PBO continues to work for Canadians and doesn't disappear behind a veil of secrecy like so many other aspects of the Harper Government.

We must demand that 2013 be the Year of Transparency - and work to hold our Government to that standard.

To that end, here's what I'll be doing this year - starting as soon as possible:

Writing letters to and meeting with my MP.  I want to open a dialogue and understand our Government better.

Writing to MP Peggy Nash who put forward a bill this year to strengthen the PBO and also has an excellent understanding of the limitations of the position. I hope to open a dialogue and learn all I can while, hopefully, helping to build support for the bill.

I'm also going to start trying to get more interviews with MPs and other integral players in our Government, ones that I hope to share with you here.

Now this isn't an exhaustive list by any means... but it's a start, a step forward in taking this offline, out into the real world.

And I hope you'll walk with me this year.

Help me make 2013 the Year of Transparency.

Thank you,
Brandon

#YearOfTransparency

PS: I tried out the official Google Blogger App today and it is horrendous.  It almost messed up this post beyond recognition when I tried to edit it on the go.  If anyone knows of any decent mobile blogging apps, please let me know in the comments. Yeesh.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

A Crooked Politician's Greatest Fear Is An Engaged Citizen

Those who just finished watching Rob Ford's denouement can attest to this, but I'm sure that there are other Mayors and politicians all around the country (and globe) cursing Democracy under their breath at the moment -- And by 'Democracy' I mean the right of the citizen to stand and challenge their leaders and hold them accountable for their actions.

Of course, to listen to the critics, the citizen responsible for Ford's downfall is nothing short of a political assassin. How dare he bring about 'lawfare' to attack a man who brazenly broke the law and hold him accountable for his actions?

Not 'How stupid could Rob Ford, this person we trusted to lead us, be?' or 'After 10 years, how could he not have read the basic rules of his job?' or 'Why did he ignore all the advice from his political allies and friends?'

No, instead it's the citizen who slew the giant that's at fault. 

And then it's all: How DARE they? Those citizens! Those simpletons! Can't they understand how the rules can't possibly be applied to [insert politician's name here]?

Or it's the "bad" law's fault.

(Incidentally, the same "bad" law that's been on the books for HOW long now that no other mayor has had any problem with?)

If there's one common theme in all of the political rancor that I've been following it's how indifferent our leaders have become to the rules and laws that govern them - or, in some cases, the blatant, bull-headed assertions that somehow they shouldn't be held accountable for their actions.

Those same laws that they so boldly swore to uphold when they took office and the public's trust.

The reality of the situation is that a good number of our leaders have squandered that trust - have played on our good natures or our busy lives so that they might have their cake and eat it too.

But we're catching on.  We're waking up to their shell game.


You know, one of the things that I really loved about Occupy was that at the very heart of the movement was this:

The power is in your hands.

The time for waiting for permission; for others to tell you that it's okay to demand better of your ersatz 'leaders', is over.

You are the arbiter of your nation's fate.

If nothing else, I believe that it was the one sentiment truly driven home by Occupy -- and, I would contend, that it's the one thing that's continued to fester and grow beneath the skins of decent, hard-working people.

In fact, a recent Samara poll has shown that only 55% of Canadians believe that "Democracy is working well in Canada", down from 75% in 2004. (Where will number sit in 2015, I wonder?)

Now, unfortunately, we don't know if that has been a steady decline or if our nation's fallen off of a 'Confidence Cliff' in regards to our leaders... either way it doesn't bode well.

For our Government.

See, when things are going well everyone's happy to not rock the boat.  But things aren't going well.

Our Prime Minister is slashing jobs and keeping secrets and aiding in the trashing of our National Environment -- and then there's that whole nagging question of whether or not the last election was legitimate.

(And that's just off the top of my head).

The murmur of frustration is growing again, especially as our PM prepares to ram through yet another Omnibus budget bill -- this one clocking in at 457 pages.

But the question remains: What will we do about it?

Cheers,
Brandon