Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Civil Servant Who Refuses to be Muzzled

'Fascist governments forbid and suppress criticism and opposition to the government..' (Wikipedia)

As Stephen Harper constantly moves to turning Canada into a police state, more senior civil servants are speaking out.

They do not work for Stephen Harper, they work for us; so while he may muzzle his caucus (who theoretically also work for us), he cannot stop officials, especially those with watchdog agencies, from reporting honestly to the Canadian public.
Jun 24, 2009
Richard J. Brennan

OTTAWA – Parliamentary budget watchdog Kevin Page says the Conservative government is doing its best to put him out of business.

"This is a litmus test for democracy
," Page, a veteran public servant, told the Toronto Star.

Sitting in his downtown Ottawa office, Page is reminded of a quotation from legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward: "Democracies die in darkness."

"When you are in power it is less easy to want this kind of oversight," Page said.

Stinging from Page's report last October that put an $18 billion price tag on the Afghanistan war, among other embarrassing revelations, the government slashed his budget for this fiscal year from $2.8 million to $1.8 million.

"Our budget is cut and I am in an almost impossible situation. ... I cannot carry out my mandate," Page said, adding that while funding is crucial, transparency is equally important.

Page's Parliamentary Budget Office, which is oddly connected to the Parliamentary Library, provides independent analysis on economic trends, scrutinizes government estimates and spending and works with the House of Commons and Senate finance committees and the public accounts committee.

Liberal MP Bob Rae said rather than trying to muzzle the budget officer, Page should be encouraged to do even more.

"He is making a tremendous contribution to the development of strong public policy and should be encouraged rather than attacked by the government," Rae said.

Page's office made waves last October with the release of the Afghanistan report, and late in November released a controversial economic statement that warned of a recession and a deficit. (While Flaherty was still in denial, or at least denying it to us)

"At the end of the day, it is taxpayers who pay my salary, and the $1.8 million that they gave me for the first years, and why (shouldn't) they see everything I do," he said. "How can you have accountability without transparency?"

Page, who was appointed in March 2008, fears the Conservative government thought he would be a lapdog, not a watchdog.

"Going back to last fall, after releasing some of those big reports, some people were saying, `Oh, wait a minute here, we thought we were going to get another research librarian.'"

Following a recent heated exchange in question period, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said when the government created the office it was designed to report on budgetary matters to MPs rather than them having to go through the government to get information.

"That's the purpose; it isn't to be an auditor general of some sort because we have an auditor general," Flaherty later told reporters.

Université de Moncton political scientist Donald Savoie argues that officers of Parliament have taken over the kind of oversight that MPs themselves should be doing.

"We've really disempowered Parliament. The role that Parliament, parties, and leaders of the opposition used to play is now being played by officers of Parliament.
"Officers of Parliament are accountable to no one ... ."

Mr. Savoie may be right to a certain extent, but when the government constantly lies and hides information from the public, someone has got to step up to provide us with the facts.

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