The International Monetary Fund is giving high marks to Kevin Page for his work as Canada's first parliamentary budget officer, but is studiously avoiding picking sides in the PBO's ongoing feud with the Harper government.
In a review of global budget watchdogs, the IMF devotes nine pages to the trials and travails of Page's five years trying to shine a torchlight in the government's murky budget process — and especially on the toxic responses he got from Harper's ministers.
"Despite the controversy that has often surrounded the PBO, the office has built up a good reputation, both domestically and internationally, and gain(ed) credibility," the report states.
"The strategy of being front and centre on the fiscal policy issues of the day, combined with transparent reporting, and an active media approach, has proven successful in raising the media profile and the influence of the council."
The report concludes that the tensions between the government and Page stem from early confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the budget office, which was located in the office of the Library of Parliament and hence gave Page "fewer teeth" than similar officers around the world.
The confusion became real when Page, determined to operate transparently, decided from the outset to make his reports public, whereas the "Library of Parliament provides confidential services to members of Parliament."
Page went further in courting the media, the IMF notes, even offering briefings on how best to understand and use his reports.
That approach, however — while successful in promoting the work of the PBO — has "also placed the council at the centre of many high-profile disputes with the government," the report says, "resulting in the PBO turning to the courts for clarification on issues related to its institutional set up and independence."
The report also warns the emphasis on Page could diminish the PBO's influence following his departure, which occurred in March. The office is now headed by Page's interim replacement, Sonia L'Heureux, while the government continues to search for a full-time replacement.
"The new PBO will face a number of challenges as uncertainties remain about the mandate, the role, and the future of the body," the report states.
L'Heureux has already had her own run-ins with the Harper government. Last month, she complained that numerous federal departments failed to meet the deadline for information on budget cuts despite a court ruling that found her office was entitled to the data.