Thursday, July 9, 2009

James Travers Dink of the Month...

OK, it's only the 9th day of the month, but I'm quite confident in bestowing the Dink of the Month award to James Travers of the Toronto Star. During the last week Travers has really kicked his anti-Harper spiel up quite a few notches, with each editorial a little more over the top than the most previous. And today's doesn't disappoint, with Travers stating it's most likely Kevin Page will either resign or be set adrift by the PM because he doesn't like Page's economic predictions:

"OTTAWA—Kevin Page is the sand in Stephen Harper's oyster. Persistently, if without malicious or even mischievous intent, the federal budget officer irritates the Prime Minister while producing pearls for Canadians.

Page is doing it again this week by pointing out in passing that Conservative economic predictions are optimistic and perhaps fanciful. Bad as the news is, it's news the country needs to know and isn't hearing from the ruling party.

Truth in forecasting was rare even when Liberals were just hiding the size of the surplus. But honesty and reality have been strangers here since vanishing during last autumn's no-deficit, no-recession, federal election. They didn't answer the call for Jim Flaherty's crisis-provoking fall fiscal update and were obsolete by the time they made a cameo appearance in the finance minister's budget.

Reliable facts and figures are about the last thing wanted by any government, let alone a minority mired in recession and facing an early encounter with antsy voters. Dependable, if inconvenient, information is precisely what Page has been delivering since last year when Harper made half good on the letter, but not the spirit, of a campaign promise to create an independent budget watchdog. Without that scrutiny Canadians wouldn't know, for example, the runaway cost of the Afghanistan mission or the rosiness of the hue Conservatives put on the dark complexion of job losses."

Reliable facts and figures Mr. Travers? Well, let's look at some of Page's previous predictions shall we.

March 25th, 2009: " Flaherty forecast a deficit of $34 billion this year and $30 billion next year. Page said that MPs should now be planning on deficits of $38 billion this year and $35 billion next year."

November 20th, 2008: "Canada is on course to record "modest" deficits in the next two years and faces the "distinct possibility" of falling into the red this year as well, says a report by Canada's independent parliamentary budget officer.

Kevin Page gave the sobering outlook on Thursday morning in his first fiscal and economic assessment of the country.
The report projects a deficit of $3.9 billion in 2009-10 and $1.4 billion in 2010-11, with a return to modest surpluses of $1.6 billion in 2011-12 and $3 billion in 2012-13."

December 16th, 2008: "Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, for example, has said the federal budget deficit could balloon to $14 billion next year."

Interesting, isn't it Mr. Travers? Page went from $3.9 to $14 billion in less than a month. He has changed his predictions as many times as finance ministers around the globe, with each new prediction worse than the previous. So is this what you consider reliable facts and figures? Does Page really mean it this time, that he won't again adjust his projections down, or god forbid, up if the economy continues it's modest rebound. Then again, if you didn't suffer from LJS (lazy journalist syndrome), you might have also noticed some other things Page mentioned. Start with this:

"Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page says Canada is "probably" better placed to deal with an economic recovery than other industrialized countries.

Page said the current economic situation is unusual because all countries are facing a recession.
"Our fundamentals are better for the most part in terms of balance sheets," Page told CTV's Canada AM on Thursday. "Even fiscal balance sheets going in are better so we are probably better placed to deal with recovery going forward."

That's hardly a reason for the PM to want to fire the man. Then again, the details are always in the fine print, something you seem to have overlooked:

"The report acknowledges there is a high degree of uncertainty in estimating potential outputs and budget balances, but comes to the conclusion that the budget "is not structurally balanced over the medium term."

Which makes you Mr. Travers, Dink of the Month.


bfairey said...

Page will be proved wrong but by that time he will have resigned from the civil service on his fat indexed pension.

BC Voice of Reason said...

Find it interesting that it is not the facts that Page presents with his Fiscal forecasts, it is the spin. Mr. Page usually provides his parameters and assumption that come up with the forecast. He has also provided the impact of changes to his assumptions. These do not get analyzed or reported.

When you actually see Page interviewed he makes clear that the basis of the headline making forecasts are using worst case parameters that are subject to changes beyond the governments control.

A point that I would like made is that the difference in the forecasts from the Banks and Bond rating agencies and various financial institution is that the people working at the Banks get paid significantly more than Mr. Page. If Mr. Page was even marginally more accurate in his forecasts he would be inundated with huge job offers from the Financial community. I have not heard of any rumblings of Mr. Page turning down lucrative offers from the private sector.

There never is any followup asking the banks forecasters what there analysis and opinions are of Mr. Pages forecasts and whether they will adjust their forecast based on the information and process delivered by Mr. Page.

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