Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. I would also like to thank the parliamentary librarian, Mr. William Young, for all his efforts in implementing the position to increase the Library of Parliament's capacity to serve Parliament, and Mr. Allan Darling, who's not here today, a retired senior public servant who worked diligently with the parliamentary librarian to make this position a reality.
Mr. Chair, the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer underwent a 33% increase in staffing this week with the hiring of one of two directors, the director of expenditure and revenue analysis, Mr. Sahir Khan. Mr. Khan has experience in the government with two central agencies: Treasury Board Secretariat and the Privy Council Office. But he also has a long résumé in the financial community, working in New York City, in consulting firms in the area of turnaround environments. So I welcome Mr. Sahir Khan, our first new director.
We will also have a 25% increase in our staff next week with the addition of another director, the director of economic and fiscal analysis, Mostafa Askari. Mr. Askari will start on Monday. He also has substantive experience in the government. He's working now at Health Canada, but he has worked at the Department of Finance as well. He has also worked at the International Monetary Fund and at the Conference Board of Canada. So he'll bring wide experience in the area of fiscal analysis, economic analysis, and forecasting.
In my opening remarks, I would like to take the opportunity to tell you how I approach the work of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. I have four messages. They are the same that were recently given to the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament and to the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.
It is an honour and a privilege to serve Parliament. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. We also have an important and timely opportunity to move forward with the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The building process will take time. Today marks an early but important step in the consultation process.
I am honoured to be Canada's first Parliamentary Budget Officer and to be an independent officer within the Library of Parliament, an institution with a long and prestigious history in Canada that has a tradition of providing objective, non-partisan analysis and advice to Parliament.
It is important that members of the Joint Committee be comfortable with me as their Parliamentary Budget Officer. Trust must be accompanied by professional, unbiased and competent advice for me to be an effective servant of Parliament.
As the parliamentary librarian has noted, I have spent more than 25 years in the federal public service. Many of these years were spent in central agencies where I had the opportunity to work with others in the provision of advice related to economic, fiscal, and expenditure management issues. This is my first opportunity, however, to work as an independent officer of the Library of Parliament. I have lots to learn about how Parliament works, and I am looking forward to serving and working with you in this new capacity.
I believe we have an important and timely opportunity with the creation of this position of Parliamentary Budget Officer. The importance stems from Parliament's “power of the purse”, which is a fundamental feature of democracy.
The genesis and momentum for the creation of the Parliamentary Budget Officer role reflect a number of important concerns expressed by parliamentarians over the past decade. The chair has noted some of these. First, there were concerns that the size of fiscal forecasting errors was hindering public and parliamentary debate on budgetary choices. Second, there were concerns that more was required to strengthen accountability and effective scrutiny by Parliament of government spending and future spending plans. Third, there were concerns that private members' bills needed to be costed early in the legislative process and better integrated in the budget-making process.
The mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is outlined in the Accountability Act, and it is now part of the Parliament of Canada Act. It has three components.
The first is providing objective analysis to the Senate and the House of Commons about trends in the economy, the state of the nation's finances, and the estimates of the government. The second is providing related research, when requested, by a committee of the Senate or the House of Commons, including the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Accounts. And the third is estimating the financial costs of proposals introduced by a member of either House other than a minister of the crown or by a committee.
The mandate includes one important provision that gives the power of the Parliamentary Budget Officer access at convenient times to any financial or economic data in the possession of the department, which is required for the performance of his or her mandate. This will stretch the budget of the officer and the analytical capacity of the supporting team. Mr. Khan is quite happy we have that provision.
I believe the creation of the position of Parliamentary Budget Officer comes at an opportune time.
First, the economic and fiscal situation of Canada is relatively strong as measured by many macroeconomic indicators. It can be argued that it is better to launch this role in a period of relative economic strength rather than weakness.
Second, we are in a Parliament with a minority government. Political scientists such as Professor Peter Russell have noted that this encourages debate about budgetary choices as well as negotiation and compromise on legislation.
Professor Russell will be speaking at the library's distinguished visitor series this Friday from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
As we look ahead, we can envisage many important and interesting debates. These include current debates about the impact of the weaker U.S. economy on Canada's economy and fiscal situation and the adjustment pressures in manufacturing related to a high dollar and high input prices. They also include important longer-term debates about raising the living standard in Canada; ensuring balanced income growth amongst Canadians; addressing the issues related to aging demographics; ensuring environmentally sustainable economic growth; and realigning fiscal resources to new priorities in a balanced budget framework.
As well, as we have seen in recent years, particularly by the work of this committee, there are always challenging initiatives that are launched by government departments and agencies with good intentions, which benefit from additional scrutiny by Parliament. In these types of cases, the Parliamentary Budget Officer should play a positive role in supporting Parliament through the provision of financial analysis based on best practices.
Building the capacity to support the mandate of the Parliamentary Budget Officer will take time. A number of months are required to build and integrate new analytical capacity within the Library of Parliament. That process has started. With the 2008 budget tabled and the 2008-09 estimates now before standing committees, the next key milestone in the normal budgetary cycle for the Parliamentary Budget Officer will be the 2008 economic and fiscal update in the autumn and the 2009 pre-budget consultations.
One can envisage a number of overlapping phases of development in the building process: first, a consultation phase with Parliamentarians on priorities and potential outcomes, as well as consultations with departments and agencies on the way we will exchange information;
secondly, there will be a team-building phase in which the office will be staffed within the Library of Parliament to serve parliamentarians; and thirdly, there will be an implementation phase in which products and services are provided to parliamentarians.
In the context of establishing the role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a number of concerns have been raised publicly, including concerns about the independence of the advice, the size of the budget for the position and whether or not the Officer will provide independent forecasts.
In this regard, I wish to note that the Parliamentary Budget Officer will maintain the tradition of the Library of Parliament in the provision of independent, non-partisan advice. I will utilize all the resources provided to it in the most effective manner possible, which includes leveraging current resources in the library, in federal departments and agencies through the provision of information, and to external stakeholders interested in serving Canadians. I will work with private sector forecasters and the Department of Finance to ensure that there's a satisfactory comprehension and oversight by parliamentarians on the economic and fiscal outlook, the related risks, and the implications for fiscal planning and budgetary choices.
As I close, I want to thank you for giving me this important opportunity to open the dialogue on the implementation of the role of Parliamentary Budget Officer.
It will be an honour and a privilege to support your efforts to ensure that the revenue and spending measures that are authorized by Parliament are fiscally sound, that they meet the needs of Canadians with available resources, and that they are implemented effectively and efficiently.
I am looking forward to hearing the views of honourable members on their expectations for the office and how it can best support their activities.