It’s a fundraising effort that it’s hard not to believe is well worth backing — if for no other reason than because this country’s political leaders have gotten so used to having every argument framed by their own collection of facts.
On the weekend, former parliamentary budget officer (PBO) Kevin Page announced plans to launch an independent government fiscal watchdog.
Modeled on Britain’s Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the new watchdog office would do the same sorts of analytical work that Page used to do with the PBO — and that the governing Conservatives, who created the PBO in the first place, have since developed such a marked distaste for.
The IFS has a 40-year history, and describes its role as promoting “effective economic and social policies by understanding better their impact on individuals, families, businesses and the government's finances.”
There’s no doubt that kind of understanding could be of value — especially when we live in a nation supposedly run by fiscally conscious Tories who have nevertheless run up the largest budget deficits in Canadian history. (The Globe and Mail reported on Page’s initiative on Saturday; on the same page was the sobering story that, while the federal government continues to talk deficit reduction, its actual deficit for the first two months of this fiscal year was $2.7 billion, compared to $1.8 billion just a year ago.)
The biggest problem most people have with economic questions? That governments either answer with bafflegab, or else simply refuse to clearly answer the questions. And most people don't have the tools to go any further than that.
A successful, independent agency could do a lot for this country’s voters, especially because we are traditionally fed a diet rich with fatty statements like “don’t worry, everything is fine” and “we know what we’re doing.”
Imagine, for example, if an independent outside agency was able to review the financial assumptions that are the underpinning of our provincial government's budgeting process. Imagine if that agency was able to come up with more accurate forecasts than the regularly inaccurate numbers our elected officials have managed to prepare over the last decade.
Imagine if such an agency could review — independent of the government's own political goals and needs — the fiscal structure of the Muskrat Falls project, and the actual fiscal risks to the province of the ever-changing energy landscape.
Such an agency wouldn’t tell you how to vote, but it sure could provide you with the kind of data you needed to make an informed decision.
Page is hoping he will be able to raise the money he needs to set up the institute — about $2 million a year — so that the project can become a reality.
Imagine. A non-political, independent agency dedicated to supplying clear economic information to the people of this country. Why, anyone who honestly believes in the concepts of transparency and accountability must be itching to jump on board.