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SENATE SCANDAL WILL BE 2015 ELECTION ISSUE, 

SAYS FORMER HARPER APPOINTEE

  

By Susanna Kelley

The explosive Senate scandal and the very future of the Upper House will be an issue in the 2015 federal election, predicts another former Stephen Harper appointee who, like Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau, ended up doing battle with the Prime Minister over the years.

"I think the Senate will be an issue in 2015, it'll be an election issue," said Kevin Page, who was named Parliamentary Budget Officer by Mr. Harper in 2008 but fought the power centralized in the Prime Minister's Office on behalf of elected MPs.

Conservative Senators have moved a motion to suspend Mr. Duffy, Ms. Wallin and Mr. Brazeau without pay over questionable expense claims.

In an emotional speech to the Senate on Wednesday, Senator Wallin accused the PMO of giving orders to the Government House Leader in the Senate to orchestrate the trio's ouster in order to appease Canadians who want to abolish the Red Chamber.

The expanding power of the Prime Minister's Office to control Senators and Members of Parliament is making it very difficult for them to do their jobs, Mr. Page said.   

Parties have become too powerful within both the House of Commons and the Senate, he said.

Senators are supposed to represent regional interests, but they can be inhibited from doing if they are under pressure to vote along party lines, he said.

Mr. Page experienced intense pushback from the Prime Minister's Office first hand when he asked for budget information to analyze on behalf of Members of Parliament.

His relationship with the Prime Minister's Office turned sour after the PMO refused to release details of spending cuts announced in the 2012-13 budget for him to analyze for elected MPs, including its own Conservative members.

That was the kind of information the Parliamentary Budget Officer was created to provide to parliamentarians, said Mr. Page, so they could safeguard the interests of taxpaying voters.

MPs ended up voting on budget cuts without knowing what they actually were.

There were also other run-ins with the Prime Minister, accusing his government of low-balling the cost of the war in Afghanistan and the costs of the F-35 jets.   

The Senate is a useful institution if allowed to do its job properly, he said.

Mr. Page was in Toronto Wednesday to speak to "The Public Good," a Ryerson University symposium that was part of the Ethical Leaders Program at the Ted Rogers School of Management.

Having been through the arduous relationship with Mr. Harper and his advisors, Mr. Page is watching the upcoming appointment of a Financial Accountability Officer in Ontario - a new post for the province.

The Ontario version is already better than its federal counterpart, says Mr. Page.

"The province is off to a good start. As a taxpayer within the province of Ontario, as a budget officer, I think they got the legislation right. So (as for) issues around the appointment, the independence of the position, the mandate, it's much better than what exists at the federal level, so that's a good start," he said.

But budget officers need power to do their jobs, he noted, in case they run into an ideological government that refuses to release information.

Mr. Page advised Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne not to be afraid to appoint someone who is willing to dig deep when it comes to looking out for taxpayers.

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : October 24, 2013

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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