BILI Committee Meeting
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Proceedings of the Standing Joint Committee for the
Evidence, May 14, 2009
OTTAWA, Thursday, May 14, 2009
The Standing Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on the Library of Parliament met this day at 12 p.m. to study the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Senator Sharon Carstairs and Mr. Peter Goldring (Joint Chairs) in the chair.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Welcome, committee members, to the meeting of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament. We will hear from two witnesses, Mr. Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is sitting before you; and Mr. William Young, Parliamentary Librarian.
I will allow a certain amount of leeway. Mr. Page has been given only one hour. However, if there are still some questions that might take us beyond one hour, I will be flexible because we have heard from the Parliamentary Librarian before. I want to ensure that all committee members who wish to ask questions are given that opportunity.
I remind both senators and members of Parliament of the five-minute rule. Many of you are interested in today's proceedings, so we will stick firmly to that rule. Therefore, I would request that you ask your questions in as concise a format as possible, and I would ask Mr. Page to make his answers as brief as possible.
I welcome Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer. I understand he has an opening statement. He has distributed a binder, copies of which are before you. It was made available in both official languages.
We will begin with Mr. Page's opening statement.
Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer, Library of Parliament: I wish to thank the joint chairs, the vice-chair and members of the Standing Joint Committee of the Library of Parliament for taking the time to review the issues regarding the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and for continuing the dialogue started last year on the implementation of the office.
This dialogue is about institution building, not about personalities or bureaucratic processes. It is about differing views of the positive role the PBO can play. It is about the sort of budget office parliamentarians want operating in this country now and for future Parliaments. Do we want parliamentarians and taxpayers to have better access to budget information and analysis? Do we want them to have access to analysis on the Canadian economy and the nation's finances that is independent of the government? Or do we want a budget officer who is forbidden from releasing his or her reports to all parliamentarians and to all Canadians, who is underfunded and whose functional independence is under constant threat?
Let me start by saying that it is an honour and a privilege to serve parliamentarians and taxpayers as Canada's first Parliamentary Budget Officer. As I speak with you today, shortly after my first year anniversary in this role, I believe it is fair to say that my capacity to serve is at an important juncture. It is time for an honest and open discussion about the requirements and challenges that I face in carrying out my legislative mandate as highlighted in section 79.2 of the Parliament of Canada Act. This mandate includes the provision of "independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons about the state of the nation's finances, the estimates of the government," which is $236 billion, "and trends in the national economy," which is $1.6 trillion.
I accepted this Governor-in-Council appointment because I believed in the government's pledge to create an independent parliamentary budget authority to help restore both truth in budgeting and the central role of Parliament in the stewardship of taxpayer dollars. In my service to parliamentarians and Canadians, I have at all times strictly interpreted the Parliament of Canada Act and operated within its bounds. I will not sacrifice the integrity and non-partisanship of this position given the context in which it was created.
At this juncture, budget reductions and administrative controls are being used to undermine the integrity of the legislation, my position and the PBO function. In short, I will no longer be able to fulfill the mandate prescribed by Parliament.
I have three key messages reflecting my experiences over the past year in carrying out the legislative mandate.
First, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, to be effective to serve Parliament and Canadians, must be subservient to Parliament but independent in the provision of analysis so that it can carry out its legislative responsibilities free from political and bureaucratic interference.
Second, the PBO must employ a fully transparent, open publishing model to ensure that the analysis is authoritative, objective and non-partisan and provides benefits to all parliamentarians. This was a direction that the PBO received during its consultations with parliamentarians and other stakeholders in the summer of 2008. We cannot attempt to address budget transparency issues with anything other than an open and transparent publishing model. The PBO cannot promote budget transparency by providing privileged information to some parliamentarians and not to others, or by concealing our results when they differ from those of the government.
Third, the PBO, to be effective to serve Parliament and Canadians with high-quality analysis, must be staffed with people with specialized skills and experience. The office must also be provided with an adequate budget so that it can carry out its legislative mandate in support of Parliament's power-of-the-purse role as outlined in the Constitution and the Federal Accountability Act.
The 2008-2009 fiscal year — the first year of the PBO — was a challenging year. It was an atypical year for Parliament given the election and the prorogation. It was an atypical year for Canadians given the onset of a global economic crisis.
In this context, a number of tangible steps were taken by my office: extensive consultations with parliamentarians; the establishment of a fully transparent publishing model; substantive capacity building; and the release of some key products to parliamentarians and Canadians to further debate on economic and fiscal issues. Among others, the products included:
a fiscal impact costing of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan. This was a historic study. A detailed costing methodology (peer reviewed) was left behind to help the work of public servants and parliamentarians in the future;
analysis of the rapidly changing economic environment and its impact on the nation’s finances (for example, cyclical and structural budget balance projections) were provided on a timely basis to facilitate pre- and post-budget deliberations;
special analytical studies on issues ranging from price deflation to a comparison of term sheets on potential government loans to the automobile sector; and
a benchmark on budget implementation quarterly reports based on Treasury Board policies and international best practices.
A number of key products are under development including estimates of capital requirements for the building and maintenance of aboriginal educational infrastructure; a second quarterly report on Budget 2009 implementation; background research on financial reporting frameworks; and the development of economic models for strengthening the capacity of the PBO to provide a rigorous assessment of Canada’s economic and fiscal situation, and prospects that underlie the production of five-year economic and fiscal projections.
Notwithstanding the provision of quality analysis, there have been significant obstacles to surmount, reflecting confusion around the spirit and the letter of the legislation and the related use of administrative controls to impede the required functional independence of the PBO in the production of analysis. Given this noted confusion, I sought an independent third party legal opinion from McCarthy Tétrault to ensure that I fully understand my accountabilities and responsibilities and that my staff and I are operating in a manner that is fully consistent with the act.
In undertaking the PBO role, I have been mindful of the context of its genesis, which includes: enhanced public expectations of accountability; concerns about fiscal forecasting errors, cost overruns and major capital projects; and, finally, the Federal Accountability Act purpose to promote truth in budgeting.
The bottom line is that legislatures around the world are becoming more active on fiscal issues. Canada is falling behind in setting up its legislative budget capacity so that Parliament is duly supported in its fiduciary obligations with respect to scrutiny and control of public money. For example, the United States recently approved an additional $350 million for upfront scrutiny of the stimulus package.
In this context, as Canada's first Parliamentary Budget Officer, I face two challenges: first, to deliver on my mandate in this period of unprecedented global and domestic economic uncertainty; and, second, to lay strong organizational foundations for the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer for the future.
On my mandate, following consultations with parliamentarians and consistent with legal advice I have received from well-respected legal authorities in Ottawa, I have done my best to provide parliamentarians and Canadians with authoritative financial and economic analysis to help them raise the level of debate, which ultimately should translate into better public policy for all Canadians. The Parliament of Canada Act and the legal opinion are clear that the legislative mandate under the act is provided to the PBO and not to the Parliamentary Librarian or the Library of Parliament.
I would like to speak to you about a number of issues that have come up in earlier testimony to this committee. I spent much of my 27-year public service career as a budget official. Budget officers, whether they are serving the government or the legislature, tend to have a common set of values, including a high level of respect for taxpayers and fiscal prudence. I have made efforts to practise these values in the PBO function.
The work of the PBO, including its quality, relevance and timeliness, is what breathes life into the legislative mandate. The work plan of my office, which is part of your binder materials, is filled, and we are now turning away or scaling back requests from parliamentarians.
The PBO work plan was developed through extensive and recurrent consultations with senators and MPs, especially from those of the PBO's named committees, including some that are here with us today. We have developed a product-release approach, in consultations with parliamentarians, that reflects clients' needs for quality products and the PBO requirements to work openly with departments’ subject matter experts in a peer-review process.
Our approach in no way impedes or restricts the ability of a member or a senator in his or her capacity to communicate the contents of our reports to Canadians, while preserving the impartiality of the PBO. The release of the costing of the Afghanistan study during the election campaign was made available only after public consent of all party leaders.
Independent analysis in the context of a significant legislative mandate and a small operating budget requires a strong analytical team. I have managed to recruit a specialized team of financial and economic analysts. They are all here today.
These people are drawn from the budget shops of the government's central agencies, the Canada Revenue Agency, the Bank of Canada and the private sector. While some carry manager titles, all contribute to researching and writing reports; accordingly, you will find all their names in our publications.
The PBO's human resource structure mirrors the approach of the government's budget shops and has received validation by both the Library of Parliament's human resource team and a third party consulting firm, the Hay Group.
I am not asking for 50 analysts to support my function. I am asking for the right to have the best dozen that I can attract. I wish to highlight that my human resource plan and structure is fully consistent with the plan budget of $2.8 million.
As a budget officer, I seek to render the government’s budget and expenditure management system more transparent. Over the last year, we have made every effort to integrate this key value in our operating model. You will find our operating plan, including our human resources plan, on the PBO website.
These documents were provided to the library’s finance team and the Parliamentary Librarian to support the PBO in accessing his planned budget of $2.8 million set aside in the fiscal framework for the library’s 2009-2010 estimates request. The information was provided in November of last year, in plenty of time to be integrated into the library’s estimates process. If this plan required any further clarification, this was not communicated to the PBO.
Regarding the operations of the PBO, throughout the year, we collaborated closely with the library’s corporate services. As part of the planning and discussion of the library’s 2009-2010 estimates, my function was asked to absorb an over-$250,000 overhead charge for a range of corporate services. As the budget officer, I could not, in good conscience, hand over such an amount without ensuring appropriate due diligence. Last November, I wrote to the library’s financial officers and to the Parliamentary Librarian to express my concerns. I asked that their request be substantiated against appropriate benchmarks so that we could work towards a service level agreement.
In order to meet the PBO’s operating requirements and to ensure the good stewardship of taxpayer resources, we outsourced a number of functions to small businesses, leveraged students or undertook the work ourselves.
In the year ahead, I will stress to my team the importance of improving transparency. We will continue the current practices of peer-reviewed products, other products and related material made available to parliamentarians and Canadians on our public website, the use of extensive consultations, the budget, and published operating and work plans. This year I will also include an annual report focused on results, lessons learned, proactive disclosure and updates on work plans. I would ask members of this committee to consider inviting the Auditor General to audit the PBO function.
I am fully aware that under the Parliament of Canada Act, the PBO is housed within the Library of Parliament and my staff are employees of the library. However, I am personally accountable for the specific mandate that the Parliament of Canada Act has given me.
To fulfil this mandate effectively, I will need three things: first, restoration of the PBO budget to $2.8 million per annum; second, the ability to decide the level of skills that I need at the job classifications that I require to do the work, as verified by independent assessment; and, third, a fully transparent, open publishing model.
Over time, however, parliamentarians may wish to consider appropriate legislative reforms to the Parliament of Canada Act so that the PBO and the Office of the PBO can be afforded true independence and affirmation of its open and transparent operating model, including the consideration of a change to the appointment process so that parliamentarians are responsible for selecting and, if required, dismissing the PBO based on cause.
Thank you. I would be happy to answer your questions.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Thank you, Mr. Page. We will first turn to Mr. Rickford.
Mr. Rickford: Welcome, Mr. Page. I will start by saying that we, and certainly I, appreciate the work you do and your long record of public service, spanning some 27 years.
I am also proud to be part of the Conservative government that brought in the Federal Accountability Act. We believe that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is an important tool for parliamentarians, and it is our hope today, and moving forward, that we can work with you and the Parliamentary Librarian to find a satisfactory conclusion to this issue.
My involvement thus far has been centred around looking specifically at the legislation in terms of the questions I have brought to this committee. In keeping with that, I will look at a couple of key ones that you have already mentioned.
It seems clear to me in the legislation that the Parliamentary Budget Officer was established as an officer of the Library of Parliament by the Federal Accountability Act and that the office was under the authority of the Parliamentary Librarian on management matters. Specifically, we would be talking about subsection 75(2) and following. Do you agree with that?
Mr. Page: Yes, I agree, as was released in the press release on my announcement. It said quite clearly that Kevin Page would be an independent officer within the Library of Parliament, according to the Speakers.
Mr. Rickford: We will get there, Mr. Page. Thank you.
At what point did you have concerns about that structure? Did they arise before you accepted the job and would have had an opportunity to look at the legislation as it may have affected your future role or perspective?
Mr. Page: By "structure," what precisely do you mean?
Mr. Rickford: I mean what is laid out in terms of flowing from subsection 75(2) to section 78 with respect to who managed the library and who, ultimately, would preside over the library, your function being within that.
Mr. Page: I had significant concerns even before I took the job just on the sheer scope of the mandate, as outlined in the act of Parliament. Having worked in all three central agencies and knowing what is required to provide economic analysis and estimates on the nation's finances, provide costing methodologies, provide scrutiny of estimates for 95-plus, I was quite worried about the sheer scope the mandate.
Mr. Rickford: If you had those concerns before, why did you accept the position? You mentioned you had serious concerns.
Mr. Page: You may put this question to the librarian after because he was part of the committee that selected me. We had a pretty open and frank discussion as part of the interview process. Over the year leading up to whether I would even do the interview for the job, I was asked to do the interview and multiple times said "no" for both personal and profession reasons.
The professional reasons dealt primarily with the sheer scope the mandate and a small budget. Therefore, when I actually did the interview, they asked me at the end if I had any fundamental questions for them or conditions. I said, "Yes, I have a few." First, I needed to hire the people who could do this job, knowing that if I am given a budget of $2.8 million, I need to seek out those people who have provided that kind of analysis.
Mr. Rickford: I appreciate that, Mr. Page. I am sure the resource part will be explored further in other questions. However, in my five minutes, I want to focus on the language in the act as we see it.
You mentioned that the independent analysis is part of subsection 79.2(a). The sole reference to independence in the section, as I understand it, is that your mandate is to provide an independent analysis to Parliament about the state of the nation's finances and economy. In other words, these references to independence in the consolidation of existing statutory provisions are clear; they refer to the analysis and not the office itself. Do you agree that the concept of independent analysis is pretty clear in that it is confined to dealing with the state of the nation's finances and economy and not your office as a whole?
Mr. Page: I think it is clear it is independent analysis. One could ask whether you need to be independent to provide independent analysis. Of course, there was the press release by the government stating that I am an independent officer housed within the Library of Parliament.
Mr. Rickford: Can you point to anything in this act that would suggest it is the office and not the analysis that is independent, just by way of interpretation?
Mr. Page: In this act, no. You are right: It provides for independent analysis. Section 79.2 starts with: "The mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to. . . ." That mandate belongs to the Parliamentary Budget Officer and I provide independent analysis.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Thank you, Mr. Rickford. Your time is up.
Mr. Malhi: When you were first appointed to the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer, what commitments were made to you in the terms of funding, and have those commitments been consistently met?
Mr. Page: The budget I was given and notified I would be working with for the first year was $1.8 million. For the second year, it was $2.8 million. That was the budget I was planning on, so we built a human resource plan based on that budget.
Mr. Malhi: Given the current budget, are you able to meet the demands placed on your office?
Mr. Page: It is fair to say that at $2.8 million, it is very difficult to provide the full breadth of the mandate. Given the restrictions put on the budget right now, with $1.8 million, it is not possible to provide very much analysis against that mandate.
Mr. Malhi: Thank you.
Mr. Braid: Thank you very much for your attendance here today, Mr. Page, for your patience through this process and for the fine work you do serving parliamentarians.
I want to touch on your operational budget process and understand that a little bit more. As you know, we have had a number of experts here before this committee who have provided us with background on the establishment of your office. One of those experts, who was involved with the creation of the PBO, was Mr. Joe Wild from the Treasury Board. With respect to the budget process, he indicated on March 26 that the estimates for the library are prepared by the Parliamentary Librarian and approved by the Speakers of both the House of Commons and the Senate. They are then transmitted to the President of the Treasury Board who tables them in Parliament and nothing more. Is that an accurate description of the library's budget process?
Mr. Page: That is my understanding of the process.
Mr. Braid: The budget of the library and, as a result, the Parliamentary Budget Officer within the library, is set by the chief librarian; is that correct?
Mr. Page: Correct.
Mr. Braid: Your operational budget for this year is approximately $1.8 million. What is the approved number of FTEs within that budget envelope?
Mr. Page: By the budget of $1.8 million, are you referring to 2009-10?
Mr. Braid: That is correct.
Mr. Page: Currently, it is fair to say we are overstaffed relative to a budget of $1.8 million because we built an HR plan and held competitions in the fall of 2008 basically against a budget of $2.8 million. Therefore, including myself, we currently have 13 people in the office.
Mr. Braid: What would be the approved or appropriate number of FTEs within the $1.8 million?
Mr. Page: We would probably be looking at something less than 10 to provide scrutiny on estimates of $236 billion and economic analysis on an economy that is $1.6 trillion.
Mr. Braid: How are the additional three staff being paid for, then?
Mr. Page: Right now, I believe it is fair to say we are eating into our non-salary operating budget. In fact, as the House of Commons Finance Committee wants us to provide a second quarterly report, we need to renew contracts with economic modeling firms and data firms in Toronto. Therefore, at this point in time, we are at serious jeopardy of not being able to fulfil that requirement for the House Finance Committee.
Mr. Braid: You indicated in your presentation that you are in the position where you need to turn back or scale away some requests. Do you have any data around the number of requests that you have not been able to —
Mr. Page: In the binder, you will see a number of requests we have received from parliamentarians. Some are private members’ bills. Some are just asking for impacts on private members' bills. There are issues on large IT projects, as well, that we do not have the resources to complete.
Mr. Braid: With respect to the budget process — the first question I asked you — if you believe that you have a business case for a larger budget, would you then not go through the established budget process within the Library of Parliament to make that case and to seek that additional budget?
Mr. Page: We did, sir. In the fall of 2008 — in November, actually, to be more precise — we tabled our operational budget plan, our HR plan, based on a budget of $2.8 million, which was our planned budget.
To be clear, when the government passes a major act like an accountability act, people like me — I was an assistant secretary of the Privy Council Office — make sure that we put aside appropriate monies to implement that act. At that time, on a measure like an accountability officer, we would have set aside the appropriate ongoing resources in the budget. That is what Finance and the Privy Council do in terms of putting together the budget.
Mr. Braid: Moving forward, are you prepared to follow the internal budget process within the Library of Parliament?
Mr. Page: Absolutely, sir. We have followed the budgetary process, moving forward and backward.
Mr. Plamondon: Thank you, Madam Chair. I read the report prepared by McCarthy Tétrault, a consulting firm hired to analyze your role and responsibilities, and to comment on the role of the chief librarian. Am I correct in saying that you were appointed by the Governor-in-Council, who granted you special powers?
Mr. Page: I am responsible for the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. I do not serve the Parliamentary Librarian.
Mr. Plamondon: You were granted powers that are specific to the PBO. Do those powers allow you to access documents that the chief librarian would not be able to access within his own powers?
Mr. Page: Yes, I understand the question. Section 79.3 entitles the PBO to access important data from various departments including the Department of Finance. That privilege is granted to the PBO, not the Parliamentary Librarian.
Mr. Plamondon: The ability to access government documents that would not normally be accessible to the chief librarian or the library in general is a privilege specific to you.
Mr. Page: Yes.
Mr. Plamondon: That enables you to carry out analyses that are more precise and accurate. That means you can provide a more objective analysis if need be; is that not right?
Mr. Page: More objective and more independent.
Mr. Plamondon: McCarthy Tétrault seemed to indicate that your role is to support parliamentarians, not to serve the library or the chief librarian. In fact, your duty is to report directly to parliamentarians without the approval of the chief librarian.
Mr. Page: Yes, I serve parliamentarians, not the librarian.
Mr. Plamondon: Is that very clear in your responsibilities?
Mr. Page: It is clear to me.
Mr. Plamondon: And it was clear when you interviewed for the position?
Mr. Page: Yes.
Mr. Plamondon: And when the McCarthy Tétrault report refers to the role of the Parliamentary Librarian, it seems to reduce the Parliamentary Librarian’s role to that of a simple library shelving clerk. The report also says that, because of tradition and not the act, the position has evolved into serving parliamentarians; whereas, in your case, because of the creation of the position, you have a duty and an obligation to serve parliamentarians, and that differs from the chief librarian. Is that not right?
Mr. Page: Absolutely. But, in my opinion, the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is perhaps more explicit than that of the Parliamentary Librarian.
Mr. Plamondon: The librarian’s mandate was determined by tradition and practices over time, whereas your role is very specific.
Mr. Page: Yes.
Mr. Plamondon: I am satisfied for now, Madam Chair.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Page: I would like to add something. In my view, it is not merely a gesture for the Parliamentary Librarian. It is possible to review the legislation overall because certain aspects of the librarian’s mandate, such as research, are not included in the mandate set out in the act of Parliament.
Mr. Mulcair: Legislation is interpreted in context. That context can be internal — specific to the document itself — or external.
If we look at the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Page was quite correct in his answer to Mr. Rickford. He is the person who has the mandate to provide us that information. However, it is Public Administration 101 for Parliament to save money and to have said: We have to entrust him to an existing institution rather than recreating everything.
I have never had a quarrel with the Library of Parliament. They do a great job within their mandate, which is charts, portraits, records, books, et cetera. No problem. They do a very good job, but we entrusted the librarian with Mr. Page and his group. We also trusted that they would respect the independence that is set out here exactly.
Part of the external context is the series of quotes from everyone from the Prime Minister to then Treasury Board President John Baird. They are very clear that what Parliament wanted, needed and was creating was an independent officer.
Mr. Page, can you tell us what you need, besides the $2.8 million, so we do not have to go through this again? What do we need to clarify? Do you think it is essential to amend the act, or do we just need to respect the autonomy, which was in fact set out by all parties?
Mr. Page: Of course, I need autonomy, and that, for me, is the most important thing. However, if parliamentarians wish to review the mandate, which is broad, if they wish to clarify matters of independence or transparency models, that is their prerogative, not mine.
Mr. Mulcair: It is crucial for our ability to do our basic job, Madam Chair, that we have someone who provides us with independent, objective and solid advice. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Here we have someone who has, time after time, provided us recommendations, information, advice and analysis that differed from that being provided to us by the Minister of Finance. Time after time, Kevin Page's advice, information and analysis has proven to be right. Especially in a time of a minority government, the need for objective, valid advice is greater than ever. We all have to pull together to find results because it takes at least two parties to get everything through.
I can state categorically that the New Democratic Party of Canada is strongly behind Mr. Page's request for his full budgeting, as has been promised. We are also in favour of the full respect of his autonomy as set out by statute and as promised by a series of political interventions. We are quite convinced this forms part of the external context that must guide us when interpreting this statute. If indeed the statute suffers some lacunae — I do not believe to be the case — we can always change it.
There is an old rule in legislation that when writing a statute, it is not sufficient to be clear enough so a person in good faith can understand; it has to be clear enough so a person in bad faith cannot misunderstand. I think we are in that second category now. We do not need to change the statute if we return to the first category.
Mr. Boughen: On your budget, is the $2.8 million under the umbrella of the library or is it apart from it?
Mr. Page: I see that as being under the library. However, going forward, one may wish to consider, given the independent nature of the work required, whether specific estimates are contained within the library, but distinguished as well within the library.
Mr. Boughen: As an officer, you are an independent person in government, but you are still part of the library and report to the Parliamentary Librarian; is that correct?
Mr. Page: We administratively follow all the library's policies, sir.
Mr. Boughen: Are you saying that you need more independence than you now have, or the independence you now have is fine as long as the act is interpreted the way it was supposedly written?
Mr. Page: We have heard some of the questions today about how the act is written and whether the way it is written is consistent with the spirit of the Federal Accountability Act.
Mr. Bélanger: Mr. Page, I have two lines of questioning. First is the matter of the publishing policy, for want of a better term. I have no qualms personally with the studies you initiate under the statutes that you have authority to initiate. You would be releasing widely and that would be expected. Any interference would not be tolerated.
I have been around for awhile and have had the opportunity of using the library services on a number of occasions when I am in the middle of preparing some work or a project. When I have asked for information, it has been given to me so that I can decide how to proceed and use it. I have not had to contend with it being posted for Internet consumption, if you will, yet that seems to be the way you are going.
Would you care to explain how you arrived at the conclusion that you would not allow a committee or a member or senator to decide what to do with the information that they have requested of you and which you would not have agreed to provide?
Mr. Page: Certainly.
We need both the library publishing model — the way the library works with individual parliamentarians — and we need the PBO model in order to provide an independent analysis around the economic trends, the nation's finances, et cetera.
At the library there are 100 researchers and 30 economists. As you noted, you have used the resources. If you have a private member's bill where you need rough costing, it is available to you now. We have not cut back, to my knowledge, on those substantial resources.
I have about one dozen people. The nature of the work and mandate is different with the scrutiny of the estimates and independent analysis on the economy and the nation's finances. When we work, we need to work in a different way with departments to get information out, and we need to work with peer review panels, if possible. We automatically operate in an open way in order to give you the best product.
When we release the product, we will work with you, as we are working now with an NDP member on a product, to be released in two weeks' time, that looks at Aboriginal educational infrastructure. On the timing of the release, we do not have a problem, just as long as when it is released, it is clear what the work of the PBO was so that at the end of the day I am accountable for the work of the PBO.
Mr. Bélanger: That is not my problem. The problem is: What if the member or the committee decides not to release it and to wait because the private member's bill they were working on is not to proceed? Would you still insist that it be released?
Mr. Page: We are not taking away the important role and function that the library provides with respect to private members' bills. If we are asked by a committee — and our preference is committee requests — to obtain quarterly reports on the economy and the nation's finances, it is our anticipation to go to the committee, make it available to them and provide that analysis.
Mr. Bélanger: I am not questioning that at all. I would expect that there would be no opposition from any quarter for the publication of the quarterly reports on the economy or on trends, et cetera. That is not what I am talking about. I am talking about requests from a member or a committee that you have agreed to fulfil. You conclude the work, give it to the member or to the committee and then insist that it be published, even if they do not want it published because they are not prepared to proceed at that time. That is the difficulty I have with that policy, if that is the way you want to proceed.
Mr. Page: In this hypothetical example, you give us a request and we need data sources from the Department of Finance, the Canada Revenue Agency or a line department. We work openly with them and tell them what we are working on. Information will be quite available as we are working on it. This was true when we did the Afghanistan report. This was also true, sir, when we looked at Aboriginal educational infrastructure.
Mr. Bélanger: We will not have time to get to the bottom of that now, but perhaps we will on another occasion.
I do not know if the Supplementary Estimates (A) were tabled in the house this morning. I thought they were to be tabled. I do not know if there is an addition for your budget, but I notice that on March 11, 2009, you asked the Prime Minister to do just that. Does anyone know whether that has been done? We were told last week by the Parliamentary Librarian that there would be no addition in the supplementary estimates. Are you aware that there is or not an addition?
Mr. Page: I am not aware that there is, sir. It is a small amount of money.
Mr. Bélanger: I understand that. I am not suggesting that it should be denied. I just want to understand the process. Our understanding from the librarian's testimony is that it was proposed to the Speakers but did not proceed further. The request was to go to $2.8 million. Is that information accurate?
Mr. Page: Sir, you would be making my day if you told me today that a budget had been returned, but, unfortunately, I have not been told.
Mr. Bélanger: That is not what I am asking. I am asking if the Speakers made the request of the government because that is the process for your budget and the library's budget — an increase in the supplementary estimates from $1.8 million to $2.8 million.
Mr. Page: The Speakers did not inform me, sir, that they are making that request.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Thank you, Mr. Belanger, that is sufficient. I am sorry. I have Senators Jaffer, Stratton and McCoy and Mr. Holder, Mr. Dryden still on the list of questioners. Senator Lapointe has deferred to Senator Jaffer.
Senator Jaffer: Thank you, Mr. Page, for appearing before the committee today. I want to understand a bit about your staff. As a senior budget official with experience in managing the budget, and given your experience with Treasury Board, Finance Canada and the Privy Council Office, can you explain the skill and experience required to staff a legislative budget office?
Mr. Page: Given the nature of the mandate, and as you have seen in the reports that have been released, we provide an independent analysis on economic trends. Staff need to be familiar with the private sector forecasting business, and we have hired such people. I have two previous senior directors in economic forecasting at the Department of Finance working for me. I have worked both on the economic analysis forecasting and the fiscal side. You need people who can provide fiscal projections and revenue and expenditures to understand the elasticity between changes in income and tax collection. On the costing side, we need people who can develop models of costing, which we did in the Afghanistan report. As well, we built a capital budget model for INAC for the Aboriginal educational infrastructure models. It is a required expertise. These people have graduate degrees, but they also need to have specific experience. When you have a small budget and $236 billion in program expenditures in the Main Estimates alone, you need substantive expertise in order to provide scrutiny.
Senator Jaffer: I understand that the Library of Parliament has a number of economists who you also could access. Are you accessing their services? If not, why not?
Mr. Page: Early on, we provided an opportunity for members of the library — in particular in the economics group, where there is experience — to work with us. We made it quite clear that we had certain requirements, and certain people were interested. Over time, they decided that they were no longer interested in working with us. We made efforts to bring in their expertise.
For the most part, given the nature of the analysis, the expertise does not exist in the library right now. The folks that I hired worked in the core shops of the Privy Council Office, the Department of Finance and Treasury Board on estimates, economic and fiscal projections, and put budgets together.
Senator Jaffer: Earlier you alluded to the fact that you over-hired in the sense that you have 13 people when you have a budget for 10 people. Do I have that right? At this time, the reduced budget is for 10 people.
Mr. Page: Yes.
Senator Jaffer: If you do not get the extra budget, what happens to your staff? I am more interested in what happens to the requests before you at the moment.
Mr. Page: We are looking ahead to the second quarter. Again, we are in a global economic crisis right now. In the first quarter, the decline in GDP is historic. We have never seen a decline as high as an 8 per cent annual rate in this first quarter alone. If we lose these people, our ability to provide the same type of analysis that we provided for the first quarter report on budget implementation will be in jeopardy.
Senator Jaffer: There are services within the Library of Parliament that you can access. For example, they have translation and another services. Do you access those services? If not, why not?
Mr. Page: We have been big beneficiaries of their human resources services. They have a very small team that has worked hard for us. We have benefitted greatly from their contracting team. One of the special provisions I have as the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to enter into contracts. We followed all their policies.
There were times when we had to produce reports and had tight deadlines. We went to the library and they could not meet our time deadlines, so we went outside.
I understand that you have seen all of our contracting. We will post that on our website in the near future. We have had small contacts with translation and communications during tight deadlines when we needed additional help. The library as well uses contracting services.
Senator Jaffer: As a rule, do you use the library services or do you contract out?
Mr. Page: It depends on the case. When we released the Afghanistan report, we absolutely needed some communications help. The library did not have that kind of deep expertise to help us to do what we needed to do, so we went outside.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): I will move to Mr. Holder, followed by Senator McCoy.
Mr. Holder: Thank you, Mr. Page, for attending today. My time is limited, so I have a few simple questions, if I may.
We had the opportunity to hear the Auditor General at our meeting on April 23. Have you had an opportunity to review her testimony?
Mr. Page: I have not read it in great detail, but I have heard the basic message, yes.
Mr. Holder: As a general comment, would you consider the Auditor General as having a strong reputation for being both non-partisan and effective?
Mr. Page: Absolutely.
Mr. Holder: I agree with you, and I appreciate that.
Mr. Page, the Auditor General told us she would never say anything in public unless she had first consulted with parliamentarians from all parties. Do you agree with that model?
Mr. Page: Yes.
Mr. Holder: It would be your practice, then, to do that on an ongoing basis.
Further, the Auditor General ensures that the budget and mandated issues within her office are handled internally versus through the media. Do you agree with that?
Mr. Page: I think there is tremendous media interest in the Parliamentary Budget Office. It stems from the openness and transparency and the nature of the reports — certainly, around Afghanistan; also talking about, for the first time in many years, that we will have a recession; and talking about the fact that we are going to be running into cyclical deficits, as well. The media certainly has a significant interest.
The media does call. One of the senators — a Conservative senator — said to me, "Kevin, if the media calls and you do not answer them, you are finished."
Mr. Holder: That is a rather interesting response.
Since you bring up Afghanistan, the Auditor General also advised us that she only releases reports when Parliament is sitting. Clearly, that did not happen — certainly in one case — with you. Can I ask you why you would be compelled to do that, sir?
Mr. Page: Absolutely.
I said publicly at the time that it would be unprecedented for anybody to release a report during that election time. All party leaders came out publicly on national TV and said "release the report." They wanted the report released.
It was only after all party leaders — the current Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, Mr. Dion, Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Layton — said release the report. After that point, I felt I was obliged to release the report. If I did not release the report, it would have been a political act.
Mr. Holder: Would you imagine that that would be your conduct in the future when Parliament is not sitting, even though, from your perspective and sense of admiration of the Auditor General, she does not do it that way? Would you continue to do it that way if an opportunity occurred?
Mr. Page: Absolutely. Sir, if it was possible, if this committee was to look at regulations going forward in terms of management of the library and look at that particular issue, if this would have been done in the past, you would have personally done me a great service because I would not have had to release that report at that time.
Mr. Holder: That is why I appreciate this dialogue.
Mr. Page, you sent a letter concerning the budget of your office to the leaders of the opposition parties in the house, but only the opposition parties. That was on January 7, 2009.
Mr. Page: Sir, that same letter went to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.
Mr. Holder: Would you imagine, from the standpoint of your role, that it would always and only ever be distributed to all parties and never selectively to opposition parties or to one select party?
Mr. Page: That is our model, sir.
Mr. Holder: From with your perspective, from the standpoint of the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, I want to come back to something you said in terms of working externally versus internally through parliamentarians. I would like your philosophy on that.
Mr. Page: I do not understand what you mean by "externally" and "internally."
Mr. Holder: I am not sure I understand either. However, it seems to me that when opportunities have warranted, you have taken some umbrage with the role. It is my feeling, at least, that that has been the case. While I respect the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer — it was the Conservative government that put that in place, but it was all committees who put the regulations in place to make that work — I have a sense that you work outside, almost as if you were the Auditor General. I am curious about how you view your role in relation to parliamentarians.
Mr. Page: I am subservient to Parliament. However, in the nature of the work, given my team — I have 13 people — people are asking me to provide independent analysis on the economy and the nation's finances. When we produced the reports, when we looked at the economy, I went right across the country, from Halifax to Victoria, talking to business economists.
When we did the report on Afghanistan, we worked with academics at Queen’s University, the University of Saskatchewan, the Congressional Research Service, the Congressional Budget office, the University of New Mexico; we work in a very open way. If that is what you meant by "external," I need external. We need help. We have significant issues and we need to raise the level of debate.
Mr. Holder: Our Parliamentary Librarian, Mr. Young, testified that he sets the budget for the library based on demands for services. At the last meeting of the committee, Mr. Young said:
I have no information from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and have received no information from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, about the level of demand for his services.
How can you explain that?
Mr. Page: I find it shocking, sir. Just from 2008 alone, with a small team — again, we started with zero on March 25 — I have 22 publications that are up on our website. I think Canadians expect us to provide quarterly reports. Within the next month, you will see an historic report; for the first time in the history of Canada, we have built a capital budgeting model for Aboriginal educational infrastructure. We will be releasing more reports on Canada and the United States. We will be giving Parliament five-year economic and fiscal projections before the summer.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Thank you, Mr. Holder.
I am moving now to Senator McCoy and Senator Stratton.
Senator McCoy: Thank you for your courtesy, Madam Chair. I am not a member of this committee. Many of you do not know me. I am an independent senator. I do not belong to any caucus in the Senate.
I have not been following your proceedings with the degree of detail I probably should on this important issue, but it did strike me that there is not a voice that I have heard that is speaking up for the independent parliamentarians.
I do want to say that I have, with my staff member of one, found Mr. Page's products to be exceedingly helpful to me in my work. I know, in speaking with many Canadians, that they also are finding your work, Mr. Page, to be very helpful.
From my point of view, I can trust the information that is being put forward because it is not partisan and it is not held in someone's pocket until it is timely to release. It is put forward in order to elucidate issues and, as you just said, elevate the tone of debate, particularly at this very important time.
My question is essentially an invitation to you, Mr. Page, to point to other precedents that are growing in terms of governments that are following the trends worldwide in moving to an open-data system. The Government of Ontario has just announced that they will do so. I know the City of Toronto is moving in that direction. Could you please provide the context in which Canada could get into the 21st century and also move to an open-data form of government?
Mr. Page: That is a great question. We will be releasing a report, hopefully before the summer break, on financial reporting. It is another report that was requested by a parliamentarian.
When I participated in an OECD meeting a few months ago, the folks at the OECD said they see two big trends in terms of public finance. One is the creation of these sorts of legislative-type budget office functions; the other is performance reporting. The whole issue of transparency crosses over both.
With respect to the work of the legislative budget office, we have seen big offices in the United States. They were the first. We see a big office in Mexico; we have a big office in South Korea, with similar mandates as Canada. We see big movements ahead in the United States. Many people watch CNN; you have seen President Obama pushing his website.
I think there is huge room. The government and public service have made a number of good improvements — the creation of their new reporting structure, the program activity architecture structure, reporting all the programs of activity. If we can move over the next year or two to get that information out to the public so the public knows, program by program, what is being spent on the different activities, it would be amazing. I would be a big proponent of that. I would like to help on that mission.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): The time is 1 p.m. We have three colleagues who still have their names on the list of questioners in the first round. Unless I hear objections, I want to move to hear from all of them. I will turn to Senator Stratton.
Senator Stratton: Welcome. It is good to have you here.
I want to go back to the question regarding the information that you prepare for parliamentarians. I still have a problem. As Mr. Bélanger has stated, when you prepare information for a parliamentarian, that is done at his request and he can use it as he sees fit. He is the captain of that ship, I would expect. If he wants to keep it private, in other words, not published, for various reasons — and there are all kinds of reasons — do you respect that privacy, or will you respect that privacy?
Mr. Page: When we sit down with a member of Parliament, as we have — and, again, we will be releasing a report in a couple of weeks on Aboriginal educational infrastructure — we talk about the product and how it will be put together.
Senator Stratton: I just need a simple answer. Will you respect that individual's request for privacy? That is what I want to hear.
Mr. Page: Members are quite comfortable with our operating model. They have the library model now, sir.
Senator Stratton: I do not want to go into the detail. I just need an answer. Will you respect that parliamentarian's request for privacy?
Mr. Page: We would not, sir.
Senator Stratton: You would not.
Mr. Page: We would not.
Senator Stratton: Thank you. That is what I needed to know.
You released the Afghan study during the election campaign only after public consent of all party members and, I guess, the Prime Minister's Office.
Mr. Page: The Prime Minister, sir.
Senator Stratton: The Prime Minister. You released it essentially to four individuals — the leaders of each party. You reduced 308 MPs down to 4. What does that make the Senate — chopped liver, essentially?
Mr. Page: Sir, as I said before, it would be great if this parliamentary committee could provide a regulation for us so that we would never be put in that position.
Senator Stratton: According to my understanding, PBO has outsourced all functions except for human resources and financing; is that correct?
Mr. Page: Sir, I am not sure what you mean by that. We are not a huge production. When these binders were prepared, we put these together ourselves last night.
Senator Stratton: I understand that.
Mr. Page: We did not outsource that.
Senator Stratton: As Mr. Mulcair has stated, are you using the resource of that wonderful library? Do you use it for human resources and for finance? Are you using the Library of Parliament for other resource aspects that you need and require?
Mr. Page: Sir, I am a big proponent of the library. We use the collections all the time.
Senator Stratton: I just need a simple answer.
Mr. Page: The answer is, "yes," sir. We use printing services; if translation is available and quicker for us, we will use their translation.
Senator Stratton: Therefore, you try to use the resources of the library to keep costs down as much as possible; correct?
Mr. Page: Absolutely.
Senator Stratton: Thank you.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): We will now move to Mr. Dryden, followed by our co-chair, Mr. Goldring.
Mr. Dryden: I want get at the definitions of "independence." We have heard a lot about independence today, and I think part of the problem is your understanding of independence may well be different from the sense of what independence means to the Parliamentary Librarian.
What troubled me was the questioning, first, of Mr. Bélanger. As he was looking to try to have you answer the question about information that would be sought by a parliamentarian and if that parliamentarian decided not to use that information and make it public, you spent some time avoiding answering the question. Then, when Senator Stratton followed up and asked that same question, you went to some length in attempting to avoid the answer as well, until finally he asked you very explicitly, "yes or no," and you said "no," you would not respect that request for privacy. Why not?
Mr. Page: Well, sir, I was trying to understand the context of Mr. Bélanger's question. We had a conversation prior to this meeting about that particular issue. We talked about private members’ bills. I have had other members say, "Kevin, if I asked you to do an analysis" — and, say, there is a structural deficit now — "and you produce this analysis and you determine there is no structural deficit — or there is, but they did not like the answer, but you were asked to do the analysis," that puts me in a difficult position where I am holding back this information. We have invested resources, perhaps used resources in different parts of the town, prepared this analysis and they say, "Do not release it because I do not like the answer." In that sense, independence means that the work we prepare is the work of the PBO. We are accountable for it and will go before whomever to defend the nature of the work. Independence also means, in that context, that we should not be interfered with in terms of people saying, "I do not like the answer. I do not want to see a structural deficit. I want to see a structural surplus." We will prepare the analysis and it will have to be what it is.
Mr. Dryden: The information requested is something that, once it is created, is not in the hands of the parliamentarian to use as one might and to be challenged as one might; that information has its own independent existence and, therefore, it is something that you feel you have the independence to use as you might like.
Mr. Page: Sir, what I am worried about in the context of this, and why I think openness and transparency is so important, is if this office, given the nature of the work — the scrutiny of estimates, et cetera — was deemed to be partisan, we would be finished. Nobody is saying now that we provided a partisan report on Afghanistan. Nobody is saying that we provided partisan economic and fiscal projections when we said the economy will go into recession or we will see deficits.
We have to work hard, and the way we work hard on this issue of partisanship is by being open and transparent. When parliamentarians ask us these questions and we are working on it, we will have consultations with them and they know how we are working. They are comfortable. Speak to the people who have asked us to do the products. They are not complaining about openness and transparency.
However, for us, it is protection against being perceived as partisan. Once people — whether it is an NDP, Bloc, Liberal or Conservative member — think we are working for someone else, and working behind this and holding back this information, we are finished. We will lose credibility.
Mr. Dryden: Why did you have such difficulty in deciding to answer Mr. Bélanger's question and Senator Stratton's question? Why did not you answer it right away?
Mr. Page: I wish I could do it over again, sir. It would be the same answer. I have had this discussion with Mr. Bélanger and other members outside the room, and I was probably contextualizing certain types of examples.
The Joint Chair (Mr. Goldring): Mr. Page, you said at the beginning of your dissertation, and you stressed it: Only after the party leaders' permission did you release the report on Afghanistan. Yet, we are hearing here from three presenters now that when you are doing these reports for parliamentarians, you will automatically release those reports on your, with or without their consent.
You seem to think that the members are comfortable with that situation. Well, I personally would not be comfortable.
Mr. Page, if you do not feel compelled to get the permission of the members of the Parliament for releasing their reports, why did you feel compelled to have to have permission from the government leaders — the leaders of all of the parties — to release the Afghanistan report?
Mr. Page: Sir, we were in an election period and these issues were being debated. We did not want to release the report. The party leaders said, "Release the report." We are here to promote transparency; we are here to promote democracy. We do not want to be seen as partisan. We released the report.
The Joint Chair (Mr. Goldring): When the Auditor General appeared at the committee, she stressed her discomfort with releasing any form of report during a writ period. I think the general opinion would agree with that. There would be a discomfort on several different levels. One of the greatest discomforts is that sometimes it would be a question that you would ask for permission to release a report. It would have to be a given, particularly by a government in power, to exhibit openness and transparency during a writ period. Is that not the type of question that should be entertained during a writ period; that the report should just not be released during a writ period?
Mr. Page: If this committee could put such a regulation forward, I would certainly strongly support it.
The Joint Chair (Mr. Goldring): Not to belabour it, but you said before that you release it automatically for a member of Parliament but —
Mr. Page: There is a difference, I think, between an election period and when we are actually in session. We are in session now, and the conversations I am having with chairs of committees, like the Chair the House Finance Committee, is that I want them to expect that they will receive an economic and fiscal update and an expenditure update every quarter. In terms of most of our baseline work — where the economic trends are, where the nation's funding is — they do not even have to ask for it. It will be there and it will be published.
Mr. Asselin: The government decided to create the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer and the corresponding legislation. You were entrusted with a responsibility. You were given an initial budget in order to set up an appropriate structure. At the same time, you were given a certain independence under the act in terms of the studies, analyses and reports you submit to parliamentarians, whether in the Senate, the House of Commons or both. A certain level of unease seems to have become connected with your work. If you are not given the budget you need, you will have a hard time meeting your objectives and responding to requests from parliamentarians.
Second, your staff may find it awkward to work for you, for Parliament, for the library, for the budget director and for the library director, all at the same time.
I do not envy staff members who have to work for two bosses at the same time. They never know which way to look. Given how things are going now, staff must be having a hard time.
Do you want the act amended? Is the act clear? Does it leave too much room for interpretation on the librarian’s part? Do you want Parliament to review the act for clarity and transparency so that the library director knows his limits? You know yours. You were given a budget to operate, the analysts you need; you have your management office and staff to manage, and with that you have to meet the obligations imposed by Parliament.
At this time, I am not convinced that you have the support of your superior, to whom you are asked to report. And I am sure that makes you uneasy. I see you as a responsible person who wants to fulfil his obligations. And if the government saw fit to create your position under the accountability act, then the need was there.
But if you have to wear a muzzle, and you are prevented from speaking, writing and doing the job you are supposed to do, that puts you in a bad position. It also puts us in a bad position. Do you think there are problems with the act? You work within its framework, so you would know better than we would. We passed the act, but you implement it. Are there any holes or grey areas in the act? Do you want Parliament to amend it?
Mr. Page: I agree. I think we have a very difficult situation here, perhaps even unhealthy. If Parliament could review the legislation, improve it and make it much clearer, it would make things easier for the next Parliamentary Budget Officer and for me, as well.
Mr. Asselin: Before the government passed the last budget, you prepared it as the director of budget forecasting services, as part of the job you were given. You came in at some $2.8 million. Did the library director support your request so that you could obtain the funds you need from Treasury Board in order to do your work?
Mr. Page: That might be a good question for the Parliamentary Librarian, but I would say that during the first phase of our office setup, the librarian was in favour of having good resources for our office. However, I think that things have changed, and he has decided to reduce our budget. It might be a good idea to ask the librarian that question.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): For the members of the House of Commons who sit on this joint committee, I know it is not customary for their chairs to ask questions, but it is very customary in the Senate to ask questions. Therefore, I will pose a question.
My relationship with the Library of Parliament for 15 years has always been that when I sought a piece of information from the library, the information was between me and the library. It was not to be shared with anyone else. If I chose to make it public, then I made it public. Why do you feel that you need a different rule in working under the umbrella of the Library of Parliament?
Mr. Page: With great respect to the work of the library, they provide an indispensable research function for parliamentarians. I totally understand that. It is a confidential service providing research; survey-related work; helping you understand how programs work or potential programs could work; and rough costs for private members’ bills.
However, with regard to the spirit of the Federal Accountability Act, if you think about independent analysis around where the economy is going, unanticipated budget surpluses or deficits and scrutiny of the estimates, that is oversight work. In my opinion, you cannot do oversight work in a confidential manner. In working with departments to provide scrutiny on estimates, costing or maybe re-costing something like the Afghanistan war, we are coming up with a different methodology. We have to work with them to understand the methodology.
Confidentiality does not work in that model. We build models and costing methodology. We are working with people outside government and in departments in doing this. When we are scrutinizing, they need to know that we are scrutinizing them. We have this relationship up front so they know what this is about.
For me, transparency is something you cannot work without in an oversight model. The nature of our mandate and scrutiny of estimates, in particular, is oversight.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Thank you, Mr. Page. I think we all are very grateful to you for your presentation today.
Honourable colleagues, for the second portion of our meeting, we have before us Mr. William Young, the Parliamentary Librarian. As one would expect in the committee on the Library of Parliament, we hear from him regularly.
Welcome, Mr. Young. We are pleased to have you. If you have an opening statement today, please proceed.
William R. Young, Parliamentary Librarian, Library of Parliament: Madam Chair, first I would like to thank you for giving us the benefit of your advice regarding the governance model and the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Since this position is unprecedented in the Westminster style of Parliament, no existing model is really applicable. That means that your committee’s opinion is not only indicated, but also necessary to help us work out the kinks, which are inevitable when setting up new services. So your work will have a significant impact on future PBO services, and on the operation and capacity of the Library of Parliament.
You have heard me say it over and over again: I think that the role of the PBO can genuinely enhance the library’s value and work when it comes to supporting parliamentarians in their roles as lawmakers and representatives.
Indeed, I have personally thought about and worked to establish the PBO function and services for over three years. Making sure that that function works as it should, and as it was intended to do, is a goal we all share.
This afternoon, I will not attempt to summarize all the testimony presented over the past few weeks. However, I believe two central facts have emerged that bear noting.
First, the legislation establishes the PBO as an officer — a senior official — within the Library of Parliament. His role, therefore, is an extension of the services and products provided by the library to parliamentarians. Mr. Allan Darling, for example, testified that the PBO is not an institutionally autonomous office but rather an individual who is subject to the management framework that governs the library.
Ms. Roberta Santi, the Assistant Secretary to Cabinet for Machinery of Government,made the same point when she said that:
. . . the Federal Accountability Act amended the Parliament of Canada Act to create the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer, not a parliamentary budget office.
Ms. Santi went on to say:
As an officer of the Library of Parliament, the Parliamentary Budget Officer reports to the Parliamentary Librarian, who has both the direction and management of the library.
Summing up, she said:
The way the legislation is constructed, the officer is within the parliamentary institution . . . and is . . . not independent or outside of Parliament as an agent of Parliament.
I should add that Mr. Roger Tassé, a distinguished former Deputy Minister of Justice, provided a similar interpretation in an independent legal opinion. Mr. Tassé found that:
While the Act mandates the PBO to provide independent advice to Parliamentarians, he is not completely autonomous. . . The PBO's authority under the Act must be reconciled and harmonized with the budgetary appropriations of the Library as well as its administrative and management policies.
The second — and related — point that has become clear from your hearings is that the "independence" of the officer should be understood in terms of his independence from the government — that is, from the executive. In every way that matters, the PBO has the independence he needs. He does not need institutional autonomy from or within the library in order to do his work and fulfil his mandate to serve Parliament.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser echoed that view during her testimony to you when she said:
He has to do independent analysis, and I interpret the independence as being independent of government; that government cannot influence his work inappropriately. But the Library is independent from government and I don’t see why being within the Library would create an issue around the independence . . . of the work and the objectivity of the work that is being done.
As members know, library analysts are a bit like university researchers. They have full control over their research and analysis. Their research may be subject to quality control in the form of peer review, but it is not vetted by library management. The research is presented to you and your colleagues in both houses to use as you decide.
Madam Chair, these two central realities — that the PBO is part of the Library of Parliament and that he derives his independence from that position — are not just of academic interest. They have important implications for the way in which the officer is supposed to carry out his duties.
In particular, it is important to emphasize that the library supports Parliament but does not act for Parliament. This is the context within which Parliament itself considered and passed the legislation establishing the position of the officer. As part of the library, the Parliamentary Budget Officer must play the same role. It is about supporting each of you as you do your jobs, not about doing your job for you.
I am far from convinced that the officer understands this distinction. His Operational Plan prepared in November 2008 includes a PBO mission statement that refers to "ensuring budget transparency." To me, this goes beyond his established legislative mandate and implies influencing the government — the executive — on his own, rather than providing you with support so that you can do the influencing.
The mission statement also refers to "promoting informed public dialogue with an aim to implement sound and economic fiscal policies in Canada." This sounds like an advocacy role with the public that impinges on, and diminishes, that of senators and MPs whose very constitutional purpose is to represent the public interest of citizens.
Also in his Operational Plan, the PBO sets out criteria to determine when and how he will support parliamentarians. He would subject your requests — representing your priorities — to his own assessment of "their materiality" and their impact on the Canadian economy. Therefore, he would select the work he undertakes for you based on his own priorities, not yours.
Additionally, rather than respecting the library's policies on public reporting, the PBO has asserted independent control of his reports and has indicated that he will make them public as soon as they are available. All reports will be made public. He has made no distinction between general reports on the nation's finances and specific studies that may be requested by committees or individual parliamentarians.
Again, the difficulty with this "operating model" is that it is based on the officer's choice to act for Parliament rather than in support of Parliament — a position fundamentally at odds with both the clear words of the legislation and the interpretation given to those words by experts on the subject.
Mr. Darling, for example, shared with this committee his understanding:
. . . that the established procedures and protocols within the Library to provide information and responses to committees or members would apply equally and with the same concept to any work done by the officer.
Yet, in line with his "operating model" and in the midst of a federal election campaign, the officer released his study on the costs of the Afghanistan war, violating established parliamentary protocols for releasing reports in the absence of Parliament and calling into question the non-partisan status both of the PBO and, in my view, the library as a whole.
This was particularly damaging because, as the Auditor General reminded this committee:
We live in a very political world and we have to be very careful of the actions we take not to be perceived as being political. We have always to ensure that we maintain, and we are perceived to maintain, an objective non-partisan approach to all of our work.
Madam Chair, whatever differences of opinion might exist, one thing is clear: The present situation cannot continue. It is distracting the library's management team from serving parliamentarians, and it is depriving members from receiving the kind of effective and accountable PBO services contemplated by law.
I am, therefore, hoping this committee can help us take positive steps forward. I share the view expressed by the Auditor General when she said:
. . . it would be very helpful if the committee gave more clarity as to how the mandate should be interpreted . . . .
Or as Mr. Darling advised:
I think, as a minimum, an instruction to the Parliamentary Budget Officer to respect the direction received from the . . . Speakers, who have legal authority over the institution, should be considered.
To that end, I would respectfully ask that this committee consider recommending to the Speaker that the PBO be informed that his position is subject to the statutory accountability regime created in the Parliament of Canada Act, which confirms the authority of the Parliamentary Librarian to control and manage the library. I believe this would go a long way to addressing the issues of the PBO's legislative status and the reporting responsibilities of his position.
In conclusion, I believe that the role of the PBO is an important role worth maintaining. What I want — what I have always wanted — is to ensure that parliamentarians receive the best service that we can provide under the law and that acts of Parliament are respected.
In my view and, clearly, in the view of several others who have appeared before your committee, in order to implement the act effectively and efficiently, the role of the PBO must be integrated into the Library of Parliament.
As always, I and everyone on my team will remain available to help you however we can.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Thank you, Mr. Young.
Colleagues, we have at this point four members who have requested to ask questions, beginning with Mr. Boughen, followed by Mr. Mulcair, Mr. Braid and Mr. Rickford. Let us begin with Mr. Boughen.
Mr. Boughen: Welcome back, Mr. Young. I know you have been with us one other time.
I have a couple of questions for clarification. The budgetary process that happens with the PBO is under your umbrella, under the librarian’s budget; is that true?
Mr. Young: That is correct.
Mr. Boughen: What happened with this $2.7 million request that seems to float around out there and no one knows whether it was ever put in or whether it was taken out. Can you help us?
Mr. Young: As I think I mentioned last week, that was a notional amount. It was neither requested, authorized nor approved, nor does it appear in the estimates of the library. I believe that we have provided the clerk, and circulated, a briefing note on this matter.
Mr. Boughen: Share with us, if you are able to do so, the reporting structure. We have you as the head librarian; we have the PBO. Does he work with you? Is there consultation? Do you talk about the operations for the week, the month, the year? Do you set goals that are collectively acceptable to both parties? How does it all work?
Mr. Young: The reporting structure of the library is that the Speakers are vested with the management control of the library, assisted by this joint committee. I am vested, according to the statute, with the direction and control of the library.
I have a senior management team, composed of the Director General of Corporate Services, the Assistant Parliamentary Librarian and the head of IDRS, the Information Documentation Reference Service. The PBO was a member of that team; but he decided, almost a year ago, that he would not participate in the meetings of that management team and has not attended a management meeting since.
Mr. Boughen: He just opted out?
Mr. Young: That is correct.
Mr. Mulcair: First, I would like to welcome Mr. Young, whom I had the opportunity to meet at the parliamentary committee before Mr. Page was appointed. I also have to say that I am beginning to see where the problem lies. It is with him, Mr. Young.
He repeated the same point that one of the senators raised earlier when he said that research done within Parliament belongs to the members, to the member who made the request. That is true for the work that your researchers do, but obviously, if Parliament was careful to enact a law, thus an amendment to the Parliament of Canada Act where it says, in black and white, and I quote "The mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to...", the mandate belongs to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, not the director of the Library of Parliament. As an elected representative, I have a problem when there is an attempt to deviate from the clear will of Parliament for internal bureaucratic reasons.
I will ask the question another way: How is it that the act specifically sets out the role of Parliamentary Budget Officer, leaving everything else to you, and yet you do not respect that role?
Mr. Young: I do not think that is the case at all, to tell you the truth. I think what you are dealing with, if you get back to the statute, is that the statute was written in 1871, and amended to create this position. The rest of the statute is, in many ways, antique.
The drafters, while they were putting this together, were trying to ensure that the PBO had the statutory abilities to conduct his functions in the absence of general statutory abilities in the overall law. They were concerned and tried to compensate for the deficiencies in the Parliament of Canada Act inasmuch as it dealt with the PBO.
In terms of transparency, it is a goal that I believe is something that should be striven for. I do not believe that everything needs to be conducted behind closed doors.
Mr. Mulcair: Do you understand, Mr. Young, that there is a substantial difference between the researchers who work for you — the 100-some-odd people, including 30 people who are economists, who do research for us; I have had a bill costed for me, they come up with great work; I have nothing but the greatest admiration for them — and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who has his own place in the statute, where it is clearly provided by Parliament that he has a mandate; not you, him. Do you respect that difference? Do you respect the will of Parliament?
Mr. Young: I do.
Mr. Mulcair: You are talking to us now about drafters as if we are amanuenses and not parliamentarians acting for and on behalf of Canadians.
Mr. Young: I am trying to say, sir, that the researchers actually function according to a blended model. They do not just work at your request; they also produce publications. There is also a research program. They also do work that is publicly available to parliamentarians.
Mr. Mulcair: Fine. However, do you understand in the final analysis that Kevin Page is not one of your researchers; he is not one of your employees? Parliament created a separate, independent office so we could get independent advice.
Mr. Young: They created an officer of the Library of Parliament, which is a senior official within the Library of Parliament.
Mr. Mulcair: I think that is where the problem lies, Mr. Young. You have never respected Mr. Page's autonomy and independence as set out in the statute.
Mr. Young: I certainly have, sir.
Mr. Mulcair: No, you have not and it is clear from your questioning that you do not understand what we have asked you to do. We have entrusted you, administratively, to provide some of the support to him. However, he has been given a distinct, specific mandate that you are not respecting, and he should not be caught between you, as an administrator, and us, the people who have entrusted him with that. We asked you to do something and you are not doing it.
Mr. Young: My question to you, sir, then might be: To what extent are you not getting what you want?
Mr. Mulcair: We cannot get what we want if you do not give him the budget we have asked you to give him. That is when I use the word "entrusted." We trusted you. When we met with you, I remember discussing this with you: You said he would be given the autonomy and the ability to carry out his mandate. You are starving him. There are two ways to stop someone from doing his job: One is to interfere with him, and he has been interfered with, and the other is to cut off his ability to do his job by not giving him the resources.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): You are now being cut off because you have used your five minutes.
Mr. Mulcair: Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Braid: Welcome back, Mr. Young. Thank you for your presentation to us again today and for your specific suggestions and recommendations for this committee to consider, as well.
I have a couple of questions for you. Mr. Page was here earlier and indicated through questioning that on paper, anyway, he reports to you. On a practical, day-to-day basis in real terms, is that the case?
Mr. Young: Mr. Page has been issued invitations to meetings for several months and has declined to attend both my management meetings and the bilateral meetings that I normally have with each one of my senior managers on a weekly basis.
Mr. Braid: Are you willing to make this work?
Mr. Young: I have always tried to make this work. I certainly would continue to try to make this work because, ultimately, making it work will improve the services that are available to you as parliamentarians.
Mr. Braid: Very good.
With respect to the budget formulation and approval process for the Library of Parliament, Mr. Page confirmed that he understood that process and where the approval milestones are through the process, and that the budget is, for all intents and purposes, defined and approved by yourself, in consultation with the two Speakers.
In terms of his request for a larger budget, he also went on to say that he did respect the budget process regarding the Library of Parliament budget and that he would continue to do so moving forward. Is that the case?
Mr. Young: He submitted a business case, the way my other senior managers submitted business cases, as I think I explained to you last week. Those business cases are submitted in the fall. The senior executive team gets together and goes through them.
Now, we were obviously aware that we would not be getting the full amount that was required by the library to meet all the requests that had been received by the senior management team or that they formulated themselves.
My management team gets together, sits down and we try to identify core services, economies and areas where one could integrate differing requests in terms of attaining maximum efficiency. We come up with something that we can try to live with.
Mr. Page was not participating in those meetings, even though I believe he was given notices and had access to all those documents. We have a shared drive, which he had access to, and which all my senior managers use while they are studying these documents and going through this process.
Mr. Braid: Mr. Page indicated that the two of you met in September to discuss his business case and his budget requests. Were there any subsequent meetings?
Mr. Young: No.
Mr. Braid: Why was that?
Mr. Young: He declined to attend.
Mr. Braid: Were there other senior managers on your management team who made requests through the budget process that exceeded what they ultimately received?
Mr. Young: All of them did.
Mr. Braid: Was the request for Mr. Page's budget realistic?
Mr. Young: As I think I explained to this committee last week, it was very difficult for me to determine this because I did not have the information about the nature and level of the demands that he was receiving from committees and from parliamentarians. As I think I told you, one quarter of his mandate is proactive; three quarters of that are reactive. I had no idea of the nature and level of requests that were coming in, the amount of time they were taking and the demands on Mr. Page's resources.
Mr. Rickford: Welcome back, Mr. Young. I just have a couple of quick questions.
We heard Mr. Page today explain that he would not respect the wishes of a parliamentarian if he or she requested that the analysis the Parliamentary Budget Officer has done for them not be made public. It raises a host of issues for some of us here.
I want to focus on the implications around resources. Do you know if the Parliamentary Budget Officer has sought or contracted outside communication services when a member has not granted permission for the analysis to be made public?
Mr. Young: I know he has sought outside communication resources. Now, I am not aware of the relationship with a member's request.
Mr. Rickford: Mr. Page talked about limited financial resources. As the one who is statutorily mandated to control the management of the Office of the Parliamentary Librarian, can you explain for this committee why he is spending money on non-core services like communications and legal opinions? I think we heard today that one firm had provided an opinion. Furthermore, how much is he spending on these non-core services?
Mr. Young: I believe we submitted to you a list of contracts that Mr. Page had let. I really do not know why he is doing it. It was done without any discussion about whether, in fact, the library could provide those non-core services. We do have a communications function. We have the same access to translation that the House of Commons and the Senate have, which is covered. We have an editorial service.
Some of those things that Mr. Page requires may be specialized; for example, he may need an economics editor. I really do not know. I know they were contracted out. There was no discussion with me over any of that.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Colleagues, we should rise at 2 p.m. We will have to be faster in our questions.
Mr. Bélanger: I just need to get some sense that the information I believe to be accurate is accurate.
Mr. Young, last week you said that the budget request of $2.7 million or $2.8 million was forwarded to the Speakers.
Mr. Young: It was in the business case; in the preliminary discussions with the Speakers. I forwarded business cases that I had received from all of my service heads.
Mr. Bélanger: I have the supplementary estimates, and there is nothing in there for Parliament. If it did get to government, it is not in here.
Mr. Young: That was last year's Main Estimates.
Mr. Bélanger: No. These are Supplementary Estimates (A), tabled this morning.
Mr. Young: We made no requests for supplementary estimates.
Mr. Bélanger: All right. That is established.
Did you make that decision?
Mr. Young: On the advice of my Director General of Corporate Services, yes.
Mr. Bélanger: Thank you. I think I have the sense of where that happened.
I do wish to apologize to the committee for last week. I was confused. The Main Estimates had not been approved. I thought they had been. What had been approved was the Supplementary Estimates (C). It has been eight or nine years since we have had Supplementary Estimates (C). My apologies, colleagues.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Apology accepted on the committee's behalf, Mr. Bélanger.
Next, we will hear from Mr. Plamondon, followed by Mr. Holder.
Mr. Plamondon: Section 79.2 reads as follows:
The mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons [...]
It does not say "to the director of the library". I would like to hear your thoughts on that.
Second, the documents published by Mr. Page indicate that he sought the services of specialized economists from outside the library since the library did not have such experts because it had never been required to prepare budget analyses similar to those done by Mr. Page. I would also like to hear your thoughts on that.
When Mr. Page posted the researcher positions that you needed to fill, why did no library analysts apply for those jobs?
Mr. Young: You are absolutely correct about the statutory provision, but Mr. Page does not provide analysis to me. I have never interfered with the analysis that Mr. Page has presented. It is presented and goes up on the website. I do not see it in advance; I do not approve it in advance; I do not read it in advance. It is, in effect, prepared according to the statutory provision.
As for the qualifications of the library staff, you are probably as good judges of those qualifications as anyone else. We have an extremely qualified group of economists with PhDs, or a minimum of a masters degree. They have different skills and specializations. They have worked for you and they continue to work for you.
Mr. Page, admittedly, requires different specializations because it is a new function. It was recognized as a new function. One of the reasons I thought the PBO could be in the library was because I felt it would augment the skills we already have.
In terms of the nature of the analysis that is done and the reports that are prepared, as I mentioned to you last week, I feel that parliamentarians would be better served by a combination of the policy analysis skills that my analysts have and the fiscal and economic costing skills that Mr. Page's staff have. I do not see that one excludes the other. I see them as enriching each other.
As to who applied for those competitions, I was not aware of who applied. I did not follow the competitions at all.
Mr. Holder: Mr. Young, you have stated here today that the PBO does not need institutional independence, and you have commented on the research talents of your own staff. Is it fair to assume that you would embrace the notion that the Office of the PBO be able to share the research services of the Library of Parliament?
Mr. Young: They work together on projects. For example, a costing project might have a policy component. We might have an economist with a specialization in that particular subject area who could assist in framing questions such that the questions could proceed in terms of costing in an effort to give you a better answer. That is where I am coming from.
Mr. Holder: Is that interaction going on currently?
Mr. Young: I am not sure. Not formally. I am sure that these folks share offices on the same floor. I cannot imagine that they do not speak with each other.
Mr. Holder: Speaking is one thing, but project work is another. I am trying to get a sense of —
Mr. Young: I have no idea; I do not believe they are formally. Informally, yes. Projects are not assigned jointly to PBO staff and to other specialists in the rest of the library.
Mr. Holder: You are not sure to what extent, then, staff resources from the Library of Parliament are necessarily being utilized by the Office of the PBO.
Mr. Young: That is correct. The only thing I know formally is that several reference requests went to librarians for assistance.
Mr. Holder: Beyond the expertise that staff of the Library of Parliament obviously have, does your staff within the Library of Parliament have capacity to support the PBO?
Mr. Young: I believe so. We were doing costing exercises for legislation before the PBO took his position and his staff were appointed. We still actually ended up doing some of these requests. This is one of the reasons I was not sure of the nature and level of demand on the PBO.
Mr. Holder: You are not suggesting that you are overstaffed in the Library of Parliament?
Mr. Young: No.
Mr. Holder: I did not think you were saying that.
Mr. Young: I think you heard me last week.
Mr. Holder: Yes, I recall.
Do you see the role of the PBO as a senior analyst to the Library of Parliament?
Mr. Young: This was something I discussed during the establishment of the office. I see the PBO as a very senior person who would not just be another economic forecaster, but who would be able to provide value-added to members of Parliament in terms of allowing them to assess, for example, the Conference Board of Canada's forecast against someone else's forecast, explain the strengths and weaknesses of those, and help make sense out of what are sometimes competing projections.
Mr. Holder: You talked in terms of the budget process. As you referenced the PBO, you talked about the PBO and "my other senior managers." You have expressed it well in the point you have made. You have asked for help because this cannot continue in its present form. I would agree. It feels somewhat dysfunctional or, at least, not helpful. However, you said it would be helpful if the committee gave more clarity as to how the mandate should be interpreted. Perhaps that is what we need to do as a committee. Knowing it is not your purview but ours, how would you bring clarity to the mandate of the PBO?
Mr. Young: That is a difficult question for me to answer right now. I believe I have given you answers to that question in my remarks and in the documents I have tabled with this committee. I would much prefer you look at that rather than get the 30-second version.
The whole issue of the reporting relationship is something that needs to be clarified. In terms of being responsible, as someone with the status of a deputy minister, dealing with an individual who refuses to participate in processes that I believe he should participate in is something that has caused tremendous trouble within the library.
You may also wish to consider more broadly the whole issue of the reporting relationships. If you have one order-in-council appointee reporting to another order-in-council appointee and that person is not participating fully in and recognizing the authority structure that has been put in place, the work of this committee and its recommendations could have broad ramifications across other government agencies where this situation does come up. I know that the proceedings of this committee are being watched by heads of agencies with a view to "What does this mean to me?"
Senator Stratton: Mr. Young, in his testimony this morning, Mr. Page said that he had set conditions under which he was hired. Are you aware of the conditions that he had set, if any?
Mr. Young: The only issue when he was hired came up in and around the level of the position.
Senator Stratton: I recall that.
Mr. Young: We had difficulty recruiting at the level that had been set by the Privy Council.
Senator Stratton: Was it specific to the job?
Mr. Young: No.
Senator Stratton: There were no conditions. In other words, he appeared at that time to accept the parameters under which the job was defined.
Mr. Young: Yes. There was no question. If I recall correctly, he came with me to various committees where he acknowledged that.
Senator Stratton: The Library of Parliament is internationally known for its excellence. The part that you appreciate as a parliamentarian is the trust. There is a huge trust. When we talk to you or to your representatives, those matters are held in confidence between you and the individual who is doing that work for you. That trust is sacred. It has continued to be sacred. Now, Mr. Page is saying, "No, I do not believe in that; that is not correct."
Trust is at the core of this matter, and the reason for that trust is confidentiality. If Mr. Page has chosen not to have that confidentiality, my question is: Where is that trust? Would you care to comment?
Mr. Young: As you know, I worked as an analyst for 20 years in the Library of Parliament. My view has always been that my personal opinions did not matter. Parliamentarians are here because they believe they want to accomplish something, and my job is to support them to the best of my ability or capacity in accomplishing their objectives.
May I say, at times my job was warning them about things that they ought not to do because of certain consequences. Those kinds of conversations have to remain private if they are to be honest conversations.
Senator Stratton: I agree.
Senator Jaffer: I have listened to you speak and have come to realize that you have a difficult job. The people who work for you are not independent analysts; is that correct? They work with you within the system.
Mr. Young: They are hired as analysts.
Senator Jaffer: Their job title is not "independent analyst."
Mr. Young: Independent from what? Their analysis is independent. I do not look at the analysis that they do.
Senator Jaffer: I said their job title. They are analysts in the library; is that right?
Mr. Young: Yes, they are analysts in the library.
Senator Jaffer: Mr. Page's job is the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Mr. Young: No. He has a mandate to provide independent analysis to Parliament. I would argue that my analysts do exactly the same thing.
Senator Jaffer: Would you say that his independence is exactly the same as that of your analysts or that he has more independence?
Mr. Young: He has a legislative mandate that gives him a proactive element by law to provide fiscal and economic analysis to Parliament.
Senator Jaffer: Is that directly to Parliament?
Mr. Young: Yes.
Senator Jaffer: That is unlike the analysts who may provide it to me personally.
Mr. Young: They may provide the same analysis to Parliament, but it is just not legislated. This was a guarantee that he can do that, and that is part of his job description.
Senator Jaffer: My question to you is this: Is he specifically assigned to provide Parliament with independent analysis? Is that what he is asked to do?
Mr. Young: That is correct.
Senator Jaffer: You talked about the budgets. It seems that you have a difficult job, in particular given the current economy. Many people are asking you for more. Obviously, the demand for the library's work is increasing. Do you know the percentage of work you did not provide for others and what percentage you did not provide for Mr. Page? Was it exactly the same across board?
Mr. Young: The library was given a 1.5 per cent increase this budgetary year. As I said, we sat down, looked at that and at the critical elements that my management team identified as being priorities for moving forward next year, such as IT and the increased provision of research services for committees and parliamentarians. We looked at where we could support some of those priorities through better management of the existing resources and reallocation of some of those resources.
Senator Jaffer: Were you aware that when he hired the people who worked with him that he expected his budget would be $2.8 million in the second year?
Mr. Young: To tell you the truth, senator, one does not hire staff on a permanent basis without having authorized budget in the bank. It is just bad management. It is not on.
In my reference levels for the library, I had other areas where they were expecting an additional money — hundreds of thousands or perhaps a million dollars. They did not get it and they did not hire.
Senator Jaffer: We understood from Mr. Page that when he came on board, he hired 13 people expecting his budget to go to $2.8 million and that at that time, you and he were working closely together. Were you aware that he hired on that basis?
Mr. Young: My understanding, and this is normal for new organizations, is that you bring people in on secondments and assignments. As you define the nature, the level of demands and the workload, you make some permanent and send some back to where they came from. Mr. Page started staffing up and brought most of his staff in on assignment. I believe that he still has some staff on assignment, so I do not quite understand your question.
Senator Jaffer: At the beginning, you and Mr. Page worked closely together. You were aware that he had hired 13 people.
Mr. Young: No, I did not know how many he had hired. I do not get involved in staffing beyond those I have to sign off on. I was aware of his directors general. At one point, he was planning to hire four people at an EX level. I was a bit concerned at that point because he was dealing with a top-heavy organization with too many EXs and not enough analysts to do the job. Across the library, I applied a lid and said that all these staffing requests at the EX-1 level and up had to come to me. Therefore, I would know exactly what was going on and what the responsibilities were likely to be and whether the workload justified the hiring.
Mr. Asselin: Mr. Young, is there a personality conflict between you and Mr. Page?
Mr. Young: No, never.
Mr. Asselin: No? Can you say that without cracking a smile?
Mr. Young: Absolutely. No.
Mr. Asselin: This seems to be a difficult matter to resolve, a matter that seems tainted by both jealousy and hypocrisy. Jealousy because we know that Mr. Page has powers that you will probably never have as head of the library. And a little hypocrisy because when you said that you defended Mr. Page, you defended his budget. You make it appear as if things are working. I wonder whether you would not do everything possible for things not to work.
I would like you to tell the committee what efforts you have made or supports you have provided to help Mr. Page defend his $2.8 million budget.
Mr. Young: There is no jealousy whatsoever.
I fought quite hard to have the PBO established. I worked for probably two years before Mr. Page was appointed to ensure that that position would be as effective as it could be in supporting Parliament.
If I were given the kind of information and support I need as the deputy head of the institution, I would be the first one out there battling to get Mr. Page more resources. However, under the current circumstances, where I do not know what is going on, where I am not being informed, where there is not, for example, even a common intake and tracking system which allows me to know what —
Mr. Asselin: As his superior, Mr. Young, did you make the effort to meet with Mr. Page and to understand why his budget estimate was in the range of $2.8 million?
Mr. Young: Yes.
Mr. Asselin: What did he say? What negotiations took place?
Mr. Young: He was not at the meetings.
Mr. Asselin: When, for whatever reason, someone does not attend a meeting where information and documents are presented, are you responsible for providing the information and documents to that person?
Mr. Young: He received the information just as all the library managers did. He had the same access to the figures, the same access to everything.
Mr. Dryden: I have a different reaction to what I heard today than what Mr. Asselin's reaction is. People who are analysts, people who deal in information as part of their life's work, believe in information. They believe in the power of information, the importance of information; they have a great respect for information.
I think what happens sometimes, especially in a context like this where information is requested by parliamentarians, is that parliamentarians can use information in a way that may or may not be at the heart of what that information is. We can misuse information, which I think analysts and those who deal in information come to resent over a period of time. They come to believe that there really is independence in information itself and that that is a very important principle around the creation of information.
Then you get into a situation like this, where you have the creation of this position, and everyone understands and knows and wants it to be independent of government. The question is, in order for it to be independent of government, does it also need to be independent of the Library of Parliament, or can it be independent of government while being under the umbrella of the Library of Parliament?
It seems as if that is where the dispute lies. It is probably Mr. Page's understanding that in order to really deal with information the way information deserves to be respected, there is independence in information itself. Therefore, in order for him to do his job, he needs to be independent of the Library of Parliament as well.
The question for people on this committee is this: Is that the legislative mandate? If it is not, should it be? Is it now the mandate, and do we have the real challenge of whether there is a conflict between an attitude of mind versus a legislative mandate? Unless we get at that, I do not think we will get at anything.
My question has to do with whether there is an independence of the Library of Parliament under the legislative mandate.
Mr. Young: The Library of Parliament is independent from the executive, and it has always functioned in an independent manner in terms of that.
Mr. Dryden: But the PBO itself is not independent of the Library of Parliament?
Mr. Young: No. The PBO is part of the Library of Parliament. I would argue that the guarantee of his independence is the fact that he is within the Library of Parliament.
If you look at other statutes, to some extent they say they are guaranteeing independence, but they always set the boundaries within which the agent or officer of Parliament would act. The Library of Parliament, because it is in Parliament, has pretty much unfettered independence. Mr. Page's mandate is to provide independent analysis, so he has a double guarantee.
Senator McCoy: Mr. Young, it is a pleasure to have you at the committee.
As an independent senator, earlier I voiced my admiration for and value in which I hold Mr. Page's work. It has been very helpful to me and to many Canadians. I thought I should put on record that I equally value the services that you provide and find them very helpful in my position. They are unparalleled research assistance. However, I do regard the two differently. I have no difficulty holding, in my own mind, a value for each of you, but in different categories.
Some question has been raised about the way I, as a parliamentarian, would interact with researchers at the library. It is a "terms of engagement" kind of question. I know that if I go to the Library of Parliament with a question and ask for a researcher, I have been often told, "Yes, we did that research for someone else, but we are not allowed to share it with you." I am aware of that. Therefore, I go to your services when I want a private briefing, much as I might hire a lawyer when I want a private briefing.
I think I heard the answer to this next question, but I want to confirm it. An example was given earlier of a private member in the House of Commons looking for advice with respect to costing out the implications of a proposed private member's bill. That member of Parliament is still free, I take it, to come to your analysts in the Library of Parliament and ask for that kind of briefing, which he would have done three years ago because that is where everyone has always gone for that kind of briefing; is that true?
Mr. Young: The legislation gives the PBO the mandate to cost private member's legislation. That is exactly where the kind of integration that I am talking about should happen. In some cases, it might be a question or a costing exercise that could be done by our economists; and in other cases, it might be one that would best benefit from either direct participation or full participation of the PBO.
I will say that we follow a blended model, senator, in terms of how we make material public. If an issue comes up, and a senator or member of Parliament requests an analysis of that issue and we know it will be of broad interest across Parliament, we will go to that senator or member and say, "We will answer your request, but we will also put this out as a publication." It is not an either/or proposition at all.
Senator McCoy: It seems to me that that might be the crux of the dilemma we are all struggling with. It is not an "either/or" proposition; somehow we all have to find our way to a "both/and" resolution.
Time is passing, so I will not pursue the point further.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): Thank you, Mr. Young, for your very forthright answers this afternoon.
Colleagues, you should know that we will not meet next week, as Parliament is not sitting. We will meet the week after in camera. At that time, we will have a preliminary draft for you to review.
Mr. Plamondon: On days when we will be away, do our researchers have the mandate to begin drafting a report or to prepare notes for us? Because the report will have to be prepared fairly quickly given the urgency expressed by Mr. Page and Mr. Young in this situation. So, when we return, I would like us to be able to get to work right away, if possible.
The Joint Chair (Senator Carstairs): It would be my hope that the analysts could give us their preliminary draft at our very next meeting and you could feed in it. Hopefully, we could then have a "more than final" report at the following meeting.
(The committee adjourned.)