11/21/2012 08:38 EST | Updated 01/21/2013 05:12 EST

Kevin Page Takes Government 'Goliath' To Court Over Information Request


Canada's budget watchdog says he's bracing for a David and Goliath court fight with the federal government.

Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, told HuffPost he will seek a reference from the Federal Court over the definition of his mandate.

UPDATE, from the Canadian Press:

Canada's budget watchdog is taking the Harper government to court over the refusal to turn over information about its austerity measures.

Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page has filed a reference application with the Federal Court seeking a judgment affirming he has the jurisdiction to seek the information.

Page has complained for months that government departments have not been forthcoming with his requests on budget cutbacks, staff reductions and impacts on services.

In response, the government has said Page is overreaching, and that his mandate is to examine government spending, not government restraint.

"Over the last few weeks, we've been busy putting together a legal strategy ... as well as working on a legal opinion about our mandate which will be part of this reference material," Page said.

"It's a bit of a David and Goliath story: PBO is all of 15 people soaking wet, and the government is 350,000 and they have departments of justice and [the] attorney general. So we know that because we are smaller, we have to be a bit smarter and a bit more creative. But we think that what is at stake is just way too much not to try," he said.

For more than six months, Page has been requesting details from the federal government about $5.2 billion in ongoing annual savings the Conservatives say they have been able to find without damaging frontline services.

So far, however, few departments have turned over any documents that would allow Page and his team to locate the purported savings and determine what their impact on government services will be.

Conservative ministers have blocked Page's requests and suggested he has no business asking departments for that type of information.

"He wants to have a look at money that's not being spent, rather than the manner in which money is spent, which is actually his mandate," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said last month on CTV's "Question Period."

On Tuesday, Treasury Board President Tony Clement's spokeswoman, Beverly Young, suggested Page was acting in a partisan manner and overstepping his bounds.

The statutory mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is to help Parliament by providing an independent analysis of the state of the nation's finances, government estimates and trends in the national economy, Young wrote in an email.

"It is not to scrutinize or challenge government budget decisions -- this is a partisan function that the elected Opposition is here to perform, not the 'independent' PBO," she said.

Page believes he is acting within the boundaries of his mandate and has every right to request information about how the federal government plans to achieve a freeze of direct program spending for six years.

His job, Page said, is to provide MPs with the information they need to do their job. Members of Parliament are supposed to approve federal government spending plans but currently have to vote blind, the watchdog said.

"I just don't find that plausible at all, that you could freeze operational spending for six years and it is not going to have any impact," Page said. He trusts what the government tells him to a point, he said, but still wants to verify the numbers.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, who awarded Page a Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal on Monday for his "courageous pursuit of information" said he believes the budget officer is acting within his mandate.

"I think he is right, and I think he should just carry on. But having said that, if he is not getting the information he is asking for, then that is what we have courts for," Kenny told HuffPost.

The Conservatives created the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer shortly after they were elected in 2006.

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