‘Rebel with a calculator’ Kevin Page embarrasses Harper government over billions in budget cuts

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Let's hear it for Kevin Page — the man who made the Harper government blink.

Last week, the Parliamentary Budget Officer scored a victory, of sorts, in his ongoing battle to grind out financial information from various departments within the Harper government.

As part of his mandate to provide Parliamentarians with independent financial analysis of government policies and spending, Page was seeking information about the consequences of $5.2 billion worth of cuts in Budget 2012.

He was, however, thwarted by the Tories who argued that the PBO's mandate was to review how government spent money, not on what they're not spending. Treasury Board president Tony Clement had also insisted that the information about the cuts would be available through other government documents.

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Before a Wednesday deadline and a threat of legal action by Page, however, the Tories blinked.

According to the Hill Times, as of Friday "25 [government] organizations committed to responding to the PBO's request" by October 19, while 50 departments had yet to commit.

"We have a good indication that we should expect that all departments will provide information. But departments, if we contact them directly and they say we are not providing it … we'll still consider some type of judicial  route, basically giving them a notice that we would consider going to Federal Court," Page told the Hill Times.

"But we're not there right now, right now we're still working under the assumption that we will get this information and we will make it available very quickly to the MPs."

Page has been a major thorn on the side of the Harper government railing against them things like the F-35 controversy and their plans to raise the OAS eligibility age.

Ironically, the PBO is the brainchild of Stephen Harper.

As a means to forward his 'transparent government' plank of the 2006 federal election campaign, the prime minister promised an office that would provide Canadians with accurate and impartial accounting of federal finances. Unfortunately for Harper, the office is working as it should.

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Page was recently described by PostMedia News' Stephen Maher as Canada's "rebel with a calculator":

He has repeatedly embarrassed the government by publicly reporting - quite aggressively - when he thinks their numbers are dishonest or wrong.

In a town where senior civil servants get ahead by currying favour with higher ups, Page has been a rebel with a calculator, an accountant with a defiant streak, the rightful heir to the mantle of former auditor-general Sheila Fraser, speaking truth to power, as he is mandated to do by law and as he is inclined to do by nature.

..Stephen Harper, who is so often attacked for being undemocratic, has given Canadians a powerful tool for keeping the government honest and renewing the power of the purse."