Thursday, October 9, 2008

Kevin Page: Man of Steel

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released his accounting of the true costs of the Afghanistan War today, which to nobody's surprise turned out to be somewhat higher than Stephen Harper's guestimate.

I love this guy. I really do. He's a devoted civil servant who clearly loves his work, despite the fact that his work is, well, accounting. Honestly, I've never seen anyone so excited about Australia's accrual method of estimating transitional costs before. He looks like a typical accountant, but watching him today, I think I got a glimpse of what sort of moxy one needs to survive as a bureaucrat in Stephen Harper's Ottawa these days.

Page was appointed to his newly created position back in March amid some controversy, partly because the Prime Minister had once again appointed a senior bureaucrat without having put him through the Public Appointments Commission that he had promised but never quite got around to creating. But from the get go it was understood that the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer was there just to make a show of adhering to the Federal Accountability Act. With a meagre budget of $2.5 million, a staff of two (now eight, including 2 interns), and a rented office in some insurance building off the Hill, it was pretty clear that nobody was taking the position seriously.

Except, apparently, Mr. Page.

For me, one of the more telling moments in Page's presentation came about 17 minutes into the Q&A portion. He had mentioned, and several reporters had asked about, the difficulties he had in getting information from various government departments. Finally, one reporter pressed him on it, leading to this humorous exchange:

Margot McDiarmid, CBC Television: You've been very diplomatic when we're asking about your frustration...

Page: I'm hoping for a future job.

McDiarmid: (laughs) But you know, in the briefing before this press conference, some of your officials reflected this frustration...

Page: I'll work on 'em. Do you have names?

(laughs) I'm not giving them.

Page: I think I know who it is, actually.

He went on to talk about how important it is, six months into the job, for him to be diplomatic and to build relationships with DND and the other departments. Leading to this not so humorous exchange:

McDiarmid: Just a follow up, are you afraid of some sort of reprisal from them?

Page: No, no. Do I look afraid? I'm not afraid, I promise you I'm not afraid.

From the resolute look on his face, I believed him. I also believed that this wasn't the first time such a notion had crossed his mind.

Still, if observing the neo-conservative revolution in the U.S. for the past few decades has taught us anything, it's that competent, productive, enthusiastic civil servants like Mr. Page are a liability when the object is to prove that government is by nature incompetent and inefficient, thus justifying the transfer of its duties to private enterprise.

I give him a year. Tops.


  1. Yeah, a shame but he probably will get "keened".

  2. Well, he did get his first knock. The speakers of the house and senate and the parliamentary librarian have found nice excuses to ensure that Page can't get anything done.