Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
1. What is the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO)?
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) is an independent and non-partisan agent of Parliament that provides independent and non-partisan financial and economic analysis.
2. What is an independent and non-partisan agent of Parliament?
Officers or Agents of Parliament are parliamentary entities rather than governmental entities. They are responsible directly to Parliament and are independent from the government. The PBO’s responsibilities are outlined in the Parliament of Canada Act.
3. What is the PBO’s role?
The PBO supports Parliament by providing financial and economic analysis for the purposes of raising the quality of parliamentary debate and promoting greater budget transparency and accountability. Parliamentarians and Committees may request the PBO to undertake analysis on specific matters related to financial costs, the nation’s finances or the national economy.
Parliament has given the PBO two distinct mandates:
- When Parliament is not dissolved:
The PBO provides independent economic and financial analysis to the Senate and House of Commons, analyzes the estimates of the government and, if requested, estimates the financial cost of any proposal over which Parliament has jurisdiction.
- During the 120-day period before a fixed general election or when Parliament is dissolved for a general election:
The PBO provides political parties, at their request, with estimates of the financial cost of election campaign proposals they are considering making.
4. How long is the PBO’s mandate?
The PBO is an officer of the Senate and the House of Commons appointed by the Governor in Council to hold office during good behaviour for a once renewable term of not more than seven years. The PBO shall serve no more than 14 years in office in total.
5. Why was the PBO position created?
The PBO position was created in 2006 to support Parliament in exercising its oversight of the government’s stewardship of public funds. The Officer does so by providing independent financial and economic analysis to enhance budget transparency and promote informed public dialogue.
6. How the PBO's team is composed?
The PBO’s organizational structure includes teams responsible for Budgetary Analysis, Policy Costing, Fiscal Analysis, Economic Analysis, Administrative Services, Communications, and Human Resources. The team is composed of about 40 employees, including economists, financial analysts, lawyers, and functional professionals.
7. What kind of subjects does the PBO analyze?
The PBO is responsible for preparing analysis that covers a broad range of topics. This requires PBO analysts to develop knowledge of a wide range of areas, including climate change, housing, high technology, and national defense.
8. Who can request analysis from the PBO?
The PBO prepares analysis for parliamentarians, including individual Senators or Members of Parliament and parliamentary committees.
Services for parliamentarians include:
• Estimates of the financial costs of any proposal over which Parliament has jurisdiction
Services for committees include:
• Analyses of the nation’s finances or economy
• Analyses of the government’s estimates
For political parties and independent members of the House of Commons during an election:
• Estimates of the financial cost of an election campaign proposal (learn more here)
9. Does the PBO have to accept any request it receives from parliamentarians or Committees?
The Parliament of Canada Act outlines the PBO’s analysis responsibilities to respond to requests from committees, Senators, and members of House of Commons. The PBO shall prepare research and analysis on matters of particular significance relating to Canada’s finances or economy, the estimates of the government, or the financial cost of any proposal that relates to a matter over which Parliament has jurisdiction, if requested by a Senate or House of Commons committee.
The PBO shall also estimate the financial cost of any proposal that relates to a matter over which Parliament has jurisdiction in response to a request from a member of the Senate or the House of Commons. The PBO may prepare reports on matters relating to the nation’s finances or economy that are listed in an annual work plan.
10. What is the methodology used when preparing reports?
The methodology used by PBO analysts varies depending on the topics and data available. To establish the quality assurance of the work done, the methodology is described in each report published by PBO.
All decisions relating to how we undertake a costing, the model we use, data, assumptions and methodology, are made by the PBO, exercising our best professional judgment. While we may seek advice from a wide range of different sources on costing matters, the final decisions on how to cost policy proposals are all made by the PBO.
11. Does the PBO make policy recommendations?
No. The PBO does not provide policy recommendations in its responses to requests from parliamentarians or in its reports.
PBO costings focus on providing an assessment of the financial impact of a policy proposal. They do not contain advice as to the merits or otherwise of the policy proposal.
12. Does a PBO costing mean that the PBO endorses the policy it analyzed?
No. The PBO provides impartial and independent estimates of the financial impact of policy proposals on the budget, as well as other factual information on the effects of a policy, if requested. It does not provide advice on the merits or otherwise of the policies that it examines.
13. What are the PBO’s timelines to produce a report?
Every report differs in terms of complexity, data inputs, and data availability. The PBO reviews the request before determining how much time will be required to produce a report. It may take a few weeks or months to produce an analysis. Some simple analyses, can be completed quickly with the research tools.
14. How can parliamentarians or committees request analysis from the PBO?
Requests from Members, Senators, or Committees should be addressed to the PBO by email at email@example.com or by phone at 613-992-8026.
15. What is the PBO’s relationship with the government (ministers and departments)?
The PBO works for Parliament and is independent of the government and the federal Public Service. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is an Agent of Parliament appointed by Parliament who reports to Parliament’s Presiding Officers (the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Commons).
The PBO works closely with government departments and agencies to ensure that information provided to parliamentarians and published research is accurate. The PBO has developed Memoranda of understanding with the heads of government departments to facilitate access to information.
16. How is the PBO different from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada?
The PBO and Office of the Auditor General of Canada are both Officers of Parliament responsible for promoting accountability and transparency.
The Auditor General of Canada conducts independent audits of federal government operations, verifies the accounting methods and accuracy of government financial statements, and determines whether public funds were used efficiently and for their intended purposes.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer provides analysis to the Senate and House of Commons on government estimates, estimates of the financial costs of proposals or election campaign proposals, and analyses of the nation’s finances or economy.
In essence, the PBO promotes budget transparency and provides analysis to support parliamentary debate and the Office of the Auditor General investigates how budgeted funds have been spend and programs have been executed.
17. Are there similar organizations to the PBO in other countries?
Yes. The Canadian PBO is one of many similar ‘independent fiscal institutions’ that have been established around the world. These include institutions like:
• The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (established in 1945),
• The Congressional Budget Office in the United States (established in 1974),
• The Korean National Assembly Budget Office (established in 2003),
• The Office for Budget Responsibility in the United Kingdom (established in 2010), and
• The Australian Parliamentary Budget Office (established in 2012).
18. Does the PBO have a role in the preparation of the budget?
No. Even if the PBO has developed considerable expertise in budget matters, the PBO works for Parliament rather than for the government of the day. The PBO provides Parliament with information about the budget, either at the request of parliamentarians or parliamentary committees, and through reports.
19. Where can I find PBO reports?
Every report that the PBO has prepared for Parliament, parliamentarians, and parliamentary committees can be found in the reports section of our website. Reports are always published simultaneously in both official languages.
You can stay connected by following the PBO on Twitter: @PBO_DPB
Our Twitter account provides updates on the most recent news, the release of reports, and other PBO activities.