cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Fri, 30 Aug 2013 16:58:46 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Parliamentary researcher named new budget watchdog



Parliamentary researcher named new budget watchdog

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has named a relatively unknown research director as the country's next parliamentary budget officer, an appointment that is doing little to satisfy concerns over the independence of the fiscal watchdog.

Jean-Denis Frechette, who is currently senior director of economics, resources and international affairs division of the Library of Parliament's information and research service, will replace the outspoken Kevin Page, whose term expired earlier this year.

Federal sources told The Canadian Press Frechette was one of three people on the Conservative government's short list and he was the only candidate given a briefing about the inner workings of the budget office.

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash congratulated Frechette on his appointment but said the government's hiring process lacked transparency and included Conservative political staff on the hiring committee.

"We are disappointed that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have resisted every attempt to strengthen the parliamentary budget officer’s mandate and refused to ensure a thorough, transparent and competitive search process for finding a new PBO," Nash said in a release Friday.

Nash said it is up to the government to give Frechette the independence he needs to serve parliamentarians.

Sources told the CBC's Evan Solomon that senior staff inside the PBO are deeply troubled by the appointment, and many are now considering leaving the office. They are concerned about Frechette's lack of experience running an agency and the fact that he has not worked on a federal budget, unlike Page, a former senior Finance Department official.

But Peter Van Loan, the government House leader, said Frechette has a background in economics and 27 years of experience in supporting the institutions of Parliament.

"After more than a quarter-century providing strong, non-partisan support to senators and members of the House of Commons, he brings a deep and serious understanding of the needs of the client group that the parliamentary budget officer has a mandate to serve," Van Loan said in a statement.

The position of budget officer was created by the Conservatives following the Liberal sponsorship scandal and is intended to provide parliamentarians with information and independent analysis about the country's finances.

The office was the subject of much political debate when it was run by the often-combative Page, who warned the government was determined to wind down the office. Even Sonia L'Heureux, the chief parliamentary librarian who served as interim budget officer after Page's term ended in March, also clashed with the government over access to fiscal information.

The PBO is set to release a series of reports on issues such as contaminated sites, sick leave and public sector wages and naval ships.

With files from The Canadian Press

more video