Crit­i­cal math

The Labradorian - - EDITORIAL -

It’s a fundrais­ing ef­fort that it’s hard not to be­lieve is well worth back­ing — if for no other rea­son than be­cause this coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have got­ten so used to hav­ing ev­ery ar­gu­ment framed by their own col­lec­tion of facts.

On the week­end, for­mer par­lia­men­tary bud­get of­fi­cer (PBO) Kevin Page an­nounced plans to launch an in­de­pen­dent govern­ment fis­cal watch­dog.

Modeled on Bri­tain’s In­sti­tute for Fis­cal Stud­ies ( IFS), the new watch­dog of­fice would do the same sorts of an­a­lyt­i­cal work that Page used to do with the PBO — and that the gov­ern­ing Con­ser­va­tives, who cre­ated the PBO in the first place, have since de­vel­oped such a marked dis­taste for.

The IFS has a 40-year his­tory, and de­scribes its role as pro­mot­ing “ef­fec­tive eco­nomic and so­cial poli­cies by un­der­stand­ing bet­ter their im­pact on in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies, busi­nesses and the govern­ment's fi­nances.”

There’s no doubt that kind of un­der­stand­ing could be of value — es­pe­cially when we live in a na­tion sup­pos­edly run by fis­cally con­scious Tories who have nev­er­the­less run up the largest bud­get deficits in Cana­dian his­tory. (The Globe and Mail re­ported on Page’s ini­tia­tive on Satur­day; on the same page was the sober­ing story that, while the fed­eral govern­ment con­tin­ues to talk deficit re­duc­tion, its ac­tual deficit for the first two months of this fis­cal year was $2.7 bil­lion, com­pared to $1.8 bil­lion just a year ago.)

The big­gest prob­lem most peo­ple have with eco­nomic ques­tions? That gov­ern­ments ei­ther an­swer with baf­fle­gab, or else sim­ply refuse to clearly an­swer the ques­tions. And most peo­ple don't have the tools to go any fur­ther than that.

A suc­cess­ful, in­de­pen­dent agency could do a lot for this coun­try’s vot­ers, es­pe­cially be­cause we are tra­di­tion­ally fed a diet rich with fatty state­ments like “don’t worry, ev­ery­thing is fine” and “we know what we’re do­ing.”

Imag­ine, for ex­am­ple, if an in­de­pen­dent out­side agency was able to re­view the fi­nan­cial as­sump­tions that are the un­der­pin­ning of our provin­cial govern­ment's bud­get­ing process. Imag­ine if that agency was able to come up with more ac­cu­rate forecasts than the reg­u­larly in­ac­cu­rate num­bers our elected of­fi­cials have man­aged to pre­pare over the last decade.

Imag­ine if such an agency could re­view — in­de­pen­dent of the govern­ment's own po­lit­i­cal goals and needs — the fis­cal struc­ture of the Muskrat Falls pro­ject, and the ac­tual fis­cal risks to the prov­ince of the ever-chang­ing en­ergy land­scape.

Such an agency wouldn’t tell you how to vote, but it sure could pro­vide you with the kind of data you needed to make an in­formed de­ci­sion.

Page is hop­ing he will be able to raise the money he needs to set up the in­sti­tute — about $2 mil­lion a year — so that the pro­ject can be­come a re­al­ity.

Imag­ine. A non-po­lit­i­cal, in­de­pen­dent agency ded­i­cated to sup­ply­ing clear eco­nomic in­for­ma­tion to the peo­ple of this coun­try. Why, any­one who hon­estly be­lieves in the con­cepts of trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity must be itch­ing to jump on board.

— Reprinted from The Tele­gram

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