The right time for a parliamentary budget officer to Quebec

Le bon moment pour un directeur parlementaire du budget à Québec

Photo: Jacques Nadeau Le Devoir
Eric Girard, Quebec minister of Finance

The next exercised and independent of a parliamentary budget officer would be particularly welcome in Quebec city in this time of crisis, say experts.

The contrast is striking, ” observes Yves St-Maurice. In Ottawa, we are already three extensive analyses of the impact of the pandemic COVID-19 on the public finances of the federal government, and a fourth should come in the next month.

In Quebec, ” the only information about the financial situation of the government, to which you can refer back to his last budget, [presented at the beginning of the month of march] that no longer had any connection with the reality only a few days later “.

In both cases, the Finance ministers call on the too great degree of uncertainty as to try to make the point on the state of the financial situation of the government, reminiscent of the chairman of the public policy Committee of the Association des économistes québécois (ASDEQ).

The difference comes from the presence in Ottawa, a parliamentary budget officer (DPB), which is already almost thirty analyses and reports on the general situation or specific measures since the beginning of the crisis, and the fact that Québec still does not have this outside perspective.

It is true that the quebec government has not delivered to the same orgy of assistance measures to analyze than the federal government, but this has not prevented the equivalent of the DPB in Ontario (called the Bureau of financial responsibility) carry out, on its side, almost half-a-dozen of analyses on the economic and fiscal outlook for the province, the impact of the pandemic on employment or to its consequences on the ability of the hospitals.


The dashboard on the evolution of the coronavirus in Quebec, in Canada and in the world

Transparency and independence

In addition to these issues, there are all sorts of other questions that a DPB may arise in Quebec, argues the economist of the University of Sherbrooke, François Delorme. It could, for example, explore the different possible uses of the generations Fund, in the circumstances, calculate how much it would save to provide home care to those who do not really need to be kept in a CHSLD or to see how the increase of the debt, that will leave inevitably this crisis on to future generations, could at least be used to reduce another intergenerational inequity by accelerating the transition to a green economy in the favour of stimulus measures to come.

Accountable to elected members of the national Assembly, a DPB quebec would respond, first, to a need for transparency, argues the independent economist Jean-Pierre Aubry, a defender of the first hour. “In recent years, government budgets have become documents excessively political. If one is not generally said nothing inaccurate, there are a lot of things, too, that we do not say that. “

According to him, a good example of the contribution made by the DPB in Ottawa, Yves Giroux, has been its analysis of the cost of the promises of political parties during the last federal election campaign.

It is also a question of opportunities, ” said Yves St-Maurice. “Governments rarely have the time, or desire, to project 10 or 20 years into the future. The parliamentary budget officer does not so much aim to place himself in an attitude of confrontation [that] offer a different point of view, in a spirit of collegiality, but also of independence. “

Professor of the national School of public administration (ENAP) Marie-Soleil Tremblay is not satisfied. “When we appeal to the work of an auditor, it is because we have a doubt on the reliability of the information that we produced,” says the accountant who has worked a dozen years in the office of the Auditor general of Québec. However, unlike in Ottawa, the budget documents to Quebec are detailed and clear, she said. And if it is true that the government will carry out a financial update next month, it fully satisfies. “Earlier, it would not have made sense. “

This time would be good ?

Nearly thirty OECD countries have one form or another of DPB, was highlighted this winter in the ASDEQ during pre-budget consultations the minister of Finance, Eric Girard, in yet another call to rally to this cause.

The last few years, which seemed a good idea for opposition parties was more when it came to the government. This time may be good, the idea has been the subject of a motion for a unanimous national Assembly this fall and the government Legault reiterating, again this winter, its intention to move forward.

“Honestly, there is no benefit for a government to impose such a ball, admits François Delorme, unless it be animated by a concern for transparency and believe in the value of public debate. “

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