The Conservatives are using the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer to help estimate the cost of the party’s campaign promises, despite concerns that the new process creates a risk that their campaign ads will leak.
On the ninth floor of an office building just two blocks south of Parliament Hill, a team of economists and PBO researchers get a private glimpse into the potential promises federal parties will announce ahead of the election on the 21st. October.
Representatives from the Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Green Party all told The Globe and Mail this week that they were using the PBO to provide an independent estimate of the costs of their election promises.
For the first time this year, Parliament’s expenditure watchdog has a legislative mandate to provide confidential cost analysis to political parties as they prepare their programs. Parties can submit specific policy proposals to the PBO, who would then give parties an estimate of how the idea would affect Ottawa’s results. It is up to each party to decide whether the analysis they receive is made public.
The PBO also released an online calculator – at readyreckoner.ca – that allows parties and the public to estimate how various tax changes would affect federal revenues.
While the PBO has added staff to do much of the analysis in-house, the process also allows the PBO to seek assistance from federal departments if needed. The Department of Finance has said that any cost-related work done by the department for the PBO will be overseen by the department’s non-partisan Deputy Minister Paul Rochon and no information will be shared with Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau or his political staff. .
When details of the process were announced last fall, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said his party would be reluctant to participate for fear that potential promises would be leaked to their Liberal rivals.
The Conservatives have since decided to participate.
In an interview on Wednesday, Poilievre said the party was confident in working with the PBO based on several assurances provided by current Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux and his team.
“The Parliamentary Budget Officer told us he would only go to departments with our permission, and only with specific issues that we approve,” he said. “It would also anonymize the questions as best as possible. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out which party would ask questions about which policy, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer has put his personal integrity and credibility on the line by pledging to protect our sensitive information and we can only take it seriously. his word.
The Conservative government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper created the PBO to provide parliamentarians with independent analysis of government spending. The Liberal Party pledged during the 2015 election campaign to expand the PBO’s budget and mandate to include the costing of election promises.
Then-PBO Jean-Denis Fréchette pushed back the idea when it was proposed in a 2017 omnibus bill, fearing it would put the non-partisan office in the uncomfortable position of helping parties in their partisan work.
The plan was still going forward. Mr. Giroux said he was aware of the new rules when he took the job and prepared the office for his new role.
In a brief interview, Mr. Giroux said his office was very busy working on cost promises for political parties.
He also said that it is up to each party to decide whether they use or publish the PBO’s costing work and that he intends to keep a low public profile during the campaign.
“We’re pretty busy, I can tell. We had a lot of requests, ”he said.