OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tapped economist Jean Denis Frechette, a relatively unknown parliamentary research director, as the next parliamentary budget officer.
He replaces Kevin Page whose term as budget watchdog expired earlier this year after years of often-bitter squabbling with the government.
Frechette has been employed in the Library of Parliament since 1986 and was senior director of the economics, resources and international affairs division of the library's parliamentary information and research service when named to his new post.
Federal sources said Frechette was one of three people on the Conservative government's short list, and the only candidate given a briefing about the inner workings of the budget office.
Frechette, however, has apparently never been involved in developing or analyzing a federal budget.
The government expressed confidence, however, that he can handle the job.
"Between his training as an economist, his experience in serving parliamentarians and managing others who do, and his respect for Parliament, Mr. Frechette will do a fine job as parliamentary budget officer," government House Leader Peter Van Loan said in a statement.
The position of budget officer was created by the Conservatives following the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
The office was the subject of much political debate when it was run by the often-combative Page.
Opposition parties have accused the Harper government of wanting to convert the position to lap dog from a watchdog.
Page's reports, including an incendiary look at the F-35 stealth-fighter program, provided political ammunition for the Liberals and NDP.
He routinely butted heads with federal ministers, including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who accused him of overstepping his authority by wanting to examine and catalogue the extent of federal budget cuts.
Sources have said it was tough to find a candidate for the job from within the federal bureaucracy because the salary offered is equivalent only to that of a mid-level official.
The budget officer is an employee of the Library of Parliament, an institution that operates independently from the government under the management of the parliamentary librarian. The library is accountable through the librarian to the Speakers of the Senate and the Commons.
Frechette's five-year term formally begins on Tuesday.
Earlier on HuffPost:
2013 BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS
Revenues for 2013-14 forecast at $263.9 billion, spending at $282.6 billion, deficit at $18.7 billion. Deficit projected to drop to $6.6 billion in 2014-15 and become an $800-million surplus in 2015-16. With files from Althia Raj and The Canadian Press.
Tackling The Skills Gap
The Tories plan to create a Canada Job Grant that will provide $15,000 or more per person -- up to $5,000 provided by the federal government, the rest matched by the province/territory and the employer. Nearly 130,000 Canadians are expected to benefit when the new grant is fully implemented in 2017-2018. Essentially, this is the government saying it is taking training out of the hands of provincial governments because it hasn’t worked and placing it in the hands of individuals. The Canada Job Grant will replace the Labour Market Agreements the feds signed with the provinces, which expire in 2014.
Manufacturing and small business get tax-credits introduced in past budgets extended to help spur investment and growth. There will be $1.4 billion in tax relief for manufacturers by extending the temporary accelerated capital cost allowance for new investment in machinery and equipment. And hundreds of millions for small business owners.
The government has pledged more than $53 billion in infrastructure spending, including $47 billion in new funding over 10 years. This includes $32.2 billion over 10 years for a “Community Improvement Fund” to build roads and public transit as well as recreational facilities and other community infrastructure projects. The Fund will consist of an index Gas Tax Fund and the incremental GST Rebate for Municipalities.
Military spending will be re-jigged that it is modeled on the ship building strategy and aimed at creating more jobs in Canada and key domestic capabilities with an eye towards exports.
Foreign Affairs - Aid Agency Cancelled
The budget has cancelled the Canadian International Development Agency, the primary agency responsible for foreign aid. Its duties will be merged into the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Tax Evasion Snitch Line
The government says it is aggressively going after tax avoiders/and closing tax loopholes. They are launching a “Stop International Tax Evasion Program” where the Canada Revenue Agency will pay individuals with knowledge of “major international tax non-compliance” a percentage of the tax collected as a result of information provided. The CRA will only pay a reward if the information results in total additional assessments exceeding $100,000 in federal tax.
Public Service Cuts
Two departments -- Canada Revenue Agency and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans -- will see big cuts. Departments will see a 5 per cent cut in their travel budgets. The government also says in the budget it intends to work with the public sector unions to “further align overall compensation with other public and private sector employers.”
The federal budget says new projects related to Canada's perimeter security deal with the United States will go ahead as planned, despite budget woes south of the border. The federal budget has given the green light to almost a dozen information-sharing and infrastructure projects related to the Beyond the Border initiative between the two countries. The vaunted deal was announced with fanfare by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama in December 2011 at the White House. The plan aims to speed the flow of goods and people across the 49th parallel while protecting the continent from a terrorist attack.
Tobacco Prices Going Up
The government wants to reduce import tariffs on a number of goods including baby clothing, skis, snowboards and gold clubs. But it plans to offset the $76-million revenue loss from that by hiking excise taxes on chewing tobacco and other manufactured tobaccos, to bring them in line with cigarette taxes.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's spring budget commits Ottawa to five more years of funding through the Investment in Affordable Housing program. The level of commitment is the same as in the past: $253 million a year over five years, which needs to be matched by the provinces and territories and can be spent on new construction, renovation, home ownership assistance, rent supplements, shelters and homes for battered spouses. But there's a new twist to the funding. Home construction in the program will support the use of apprentices so that newcomers to the construction trades can build up crucial experience. The budget also commits $100 million over two years to build 250 more units of affordable housing in Nunavut, where homes are so crowded that illness spreads easily and poverty abounds.