Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said he regrets having to cancel Tuesday’s planned address to a Vancouver Island University political youth group, but said he had no alternative after learning admission fees would be used for political fundraising, which goes against his office’s policy.
Page said he was invited to speak to the Young Liberals by Mike McDowall, event organizer and vice-president of the Nanaimo-Alberni Federal Liberal Riding Association, in August under the premise it was a non-partisan event open to the public and sponsored by the university.
Page’s non-partisan office serves as a watchdog on federal spending. Page is Canada’s first PBO, appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in March 2008.
He had planned to speak to the students about his 2011 report on fiscal sustainability while Parliament was on a week-long break.
“I feel sincerely disappointed the event was cancelled,” Page wrote to the News Bulletin while waiting to board a flight to Winnipeg Wednesday morning. “I truly look forward to speaking to students and others outside of Ottawa on economic and fiscal issues. I find it personally very energizing and it is also very important that we subject PBO to the scrutiny of others. It is a break week for Parliament so it seemed like a perfect time for outreach opportunities.”
The Young Liberals is one of the university’s only political groups with about 30 members and despite its name, it allows members of all political stripes to join in an effort to encourage political involvement among students, McDowall said in an interview prior to the event. McDowall could not be reached for comment before press time Wednesday.
Upon learning of the fundraising aspect of the event Tuesday, Page said he contacted McDowall saying he could not participate if the event served as a political fundraiser – tickets were $5 for students and $10 for members of the public – and asked that the university sponsor the event.
McDowall agreed to drop the fees and any reference to fundraising activities, but at that point the university was not in a position to sponsor the event, forcing Page to withdraw.
“Since the original premise of the engagement had changed, we decided to cancel the event,” said Page.
Page had hoped to talk to the audience about his analysis of whether Canada has a sustainable fiscal structure at the federal, provincial and territorial levels of government, with a sustainable structure implying that public debt will not grow faster than gross domestic product.
Page’s analysis indicates that due in large part to the demographic transition that is underway, Canada does not have a sustainable fiscal structure at any of the senior levels of government, said Page.
“It is a tough issue for policy makers facing significant global uncertainty and current budgetary deficits,” he said. “It means they will have to make tough choices. It means the current focus by many on short term issues is incomplete and it means there will be more fiscal consolidation decision making after we get through the current challenges.”