Budget watchdog to crunch numbers on political campaign promises for 1st time

For the first time, Canada's budget watchdog has a mandate to cost out election campaign promises, but the uptake from political parties isn't clear.

Yves Giroux says Canadians will benefit from more information before casting ballots

For the first time, the Parliamentary Budget Officer will have a mandate to carry out costing analysis of election campaign promises. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

For the first time, Canada's budget watchdog has a mandate to cost out election campaign promises — but the uptake from all political parties isn't clear.

Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) Yves Giroux has hired a new team of economists and accountants with expertise in various fields, including taxes, defence procurement and student financial assistance.

Giroux said the costing analysis will give political parties more certainty and enhanced credibility.

"But the main advantage will be for Canadians. Canadians will have enhanced reassurance that there is a non-partisan and professional organization that provides cost estimates for political parties' engagements," he said during a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday.

PBO Yves Giroux says costing analysis of election promises will help Canadian voters. (twitter.com)

Requests for cost analysis will come from the parties. The costing service is not mandatory.

Sloane Mask, PBO's director of parliamentary relations and planning, said the office is in discussions with all the parties about the new platform costing service.

"We will let the parties announce their own intentions and plans. It would not be appropriate for us to speak on their behalf," she wrote in an email.

The Liberal Party will submit its platform to the PBO, but the Conservatives have not yet committed to doing so.

"Our focus right now is on developing the platform we'll present to Canadians," said Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann in an email to CBC. 

"It will show how a Conservative government will help Canadians get ahead, not just get by. While no decision has been made beyond that, our platform will be fully costed by an external agency."

A Conservative campaign source said the party has "strong concerns" about potential leaks from the PBO to the public or to competing parties.

The Liberals issued a news release today accusing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer of trying to hide "massive cuts" in his party's platform.

"Andrew Scheer is refusing to allow an independent check of the numbers so the Conservatives can hide massive cuts," said Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez in the statement.  "That's what Doug Ford did and now Ontarians are seeing cuts to their libraries, cuts to flood mitigation, cuts to public health agencies that work to address health crises like SARS, H1N1, and others. Andrew Scheer is planning to do the same thing."

The Green Party says it will submit its entire platform to the PBO. Green Party political director Angela Rickman said the party has costed its platform already, but wants the PBO's independent assessment.

"We feel that it is necessary to be open and honest with all of our measures, and hope that this would make our platform revenues and expenditures clear to Canadians," she said. "We are hoping that the other parties will cost their platforms through the PBO, so that their spending and revenues are assessed by an independent and unbiased group of experts." 

The NDP says it looks forward to working with the PBO, but did not say exactly what it will request.

Costing to be posted online

"As this is the first time that the PBO will be involved in costing partisan initiatives, it would be premature to draw conclusions about exactly how the process will unfold," says a statement from the NDP.

CBC News is still awaiting responses to queries put to the Liberal and Conservative parties.

Giroux will begin taking requests 120 days before the election, on June 23. Once the announcement is made during the campaign, the costing will be posted on the PBO website.

"For the first time in Canada, a professional, non-partisan organization will be able to cost electoral commitments so Canadian voters have access to the unbiased, non-partisan information they deserve before they cast their ballot," he said.

Parties can request the costing service for individual campaign proposals, or for entire platforms.

The PBO was given the expanded mandate in 2017. Since then, the number of PBO economists, accountants and analysts has doubled to 30 from 15.

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