Costing of Election Promises: PBO Guidelines
The 2017 amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act introduced a new
mandate for the parliamentary budget officer (PBO) to estimate the
financial cost of election campaign proposals on request. This new
mandate was criticized by the then PBO primarily on the basis that it
would cause the non-partisan PBO to become involved in parties'
pre-election development processes and strain limited PBO resources.
However, no backing down on this commitment has taken place. Thus, with a
federal election coming up in October 2019, the PBO published on
November 23, 2018 some information on how this will work.
prepared following consultations with stakeholders, outline how the PBO
will deliver its new mandate and ensure transparency in its process.
The basic structure of the mandate is provided in the enacting
legislation; however, the guidelines provide a framework for the costing
request process and address some of the practical details that are not
contained in the legislation. For example, the report sets out the
request process, timelines, guidelines for the types of costs it may
estimate, the PBO's resource and financial allocation, and how it will
prioritize requests. It also clarifies that the PBO will not provide
implementation advice or address the practical details of proposed
policies. Three stated principles guide the report framework: the
framework should (1) ensure that the PBO's analysis remains
non-partisan, (2) ensure that the PBO's analysis remains credible, and
(3) be manageable within the legislated time frame of 120 days (or the
period following dissolution of Parliament).
The report also clarifies the interactions of the PBO with departments.
Under the Parliament of Canada Act, ministers, departments, and agencies
are required to assist the PBO in delivering the campaign costing
mandate. This has been criticized as potentially creating a situation
where parties may have to discuss elements of their platforms with
government departments headed by a minister of an opposing party. In the
report, the PBO clarified that the departments' role will be to prepare
estimates if the PBO is unable to (due to confidentiality of data or
lack of modelling capacity), as well as provide technical advice and
peer review. The PBO emphasized its focus on maintaining its
Although there will undoubtedly continue to be criticisms of the PBO
costing process, and likely further refinements of the process as the
new mandate gets under way, this report provides a helpful guideline for
addressing the initial concerns with the mandate and provides practical
details for its implementation. For further details on the PBO's new
mandate, see "Role of the Parliamentary Budget Officer in Tax Policy," Canadian Tax Focus, August 2017.
Robins Appleby LLP, Toronto