More than a decade ago, Library of Parliament re-searcher Jean-Denis Fréchette invited me along on a trip to a miracle shrine.
It was a revelation.
As the newly appointed parliamentary budget officer, he may want to revisit that shrine, considering he is confronting a hostile Conservative government that wants a complacent PBO and an opposition that is demanding an aggressive parliamentary officer to keep the government’s feet to the fire. He will need a miracle to survive intact.
We were both at an agricultural conference in Quebec City all those years ago, I as a reporter and he as a researcher for the House of Commons agriculture committee.
The conference ended with a free afternoon before flights.
Fréchette knew the area.
“Let’s rent a car and drive the North Shore,” he said.
Off we went, ending up 40 kilo-metres northeast of Quebec City at the Basilica of Ste. Anne-de-Beaupré, a church first built in the 17th century, rebuilt over the years to a structure that was permanent by 1876 and rebuilt in 1926 after a fire to be the shrine it is today.
Stories of workers injured on the job who were healed abound. Visitors arrive damaged and leave whole.
In the vestibule of the basilica were scores of crutches left by the faithful who came lame and left walking.
It attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims each year: the Québec version of the Sanctuary of Lourdes in France with its reported healing waters.
Fréchette did not indicate at the time if he believed in the miracles.
Fast forward a decade or more and his appointment recently as the new parliamentary budget officer, and Fréchette could be looking for some supernatural help.
Created by the current Conservative government, the office was meant to provide parliamentarians with an analysis of government spending plans and their effectiveness.
The first PBO, Kevin Page, expanded his mandate to include criticism of the gap between government promises and what spending was not doing to fulfill it. He analyzed the impact of cuts.
The Conservatives were not pleased, arguing that Page was ex-ceeding his mandate. They did not renew his five-year term this year.
Enter Fréchette, a 27-year Parliament Hill veteran of Library of Parliament research and a former re-searcher with Dairy Farmers of Canada. For many years he was attached to the House of Commons agriculture committee, overseeing the writing of reports.
Conservatives have suggested he stick to his knitting, limiting his work to analyzing what the feds spend.
Opposition MPs immediately suggested that because the government did not consult with them on the appointment, he already has the taint of being a Conservative-picked candidate. He should expand his mandate.
So Fréchette will be under close opposition scrutiny, and Page, now at the University of Ottawa, promises regular reports on government spending that likely will rival the official version.
However, Page did not examine agricultural spending results.
With his background in agriculture, perhaps Fréchette will analyze the real impact of government cuts to business risk programs this year or cuts in agricultural spending.
That would be a PBO contribution to the agricultural debate.