AG budget increase would be sound investment for NB taxpayers
Back when New Brunswick Auditor-General Kim MacPherson was looking for funding to probe further into the Atcon fiasco, and the Liberal government was reluctant to finance such an exploration, I remember Michael Camp on our CBC political observer’s panel making the observation of how curious it was that the public has more faith in a non-elected government employee than it does in our elected politicians.
He was right, and that was only re-enforced when she said she would do the investigation anyway, regardless of what the government says. It was a bold move of defiance that raised both eyebrows and her credibility as a no-nonsense public servant dedicated to holding the government to account for its decisions.
It was one more chapter in the uneasy relationship between the Auditor-General and the government. And that’s great. The AG should make the government uncomfortable.
Her latest report issued just this week has again put the government on the defensive as she once again raised a red flag over the government’s failure to take our financial situation seriously enough, warning that we cannot go on like this because it simply isn’t sustainable. (It should be noted this criticism isn’t of just the current government. She noted that for the past 11 years in a row, from the Graham government, and continuing through the Alward government and to the current one, there have been deficits every year, resulting in our current debt reaching $14 Billion.)
In this week’s AG report, MacPherson also rapped the current government’s knuckles over excessive executive pay at WorkSafe New Brunswick, and for failing provincial prisoners with mental health and addiction issues.
It seems every time she issues a report she hits at the heart of government failure at one level or another, usually something that shows irresponsible spending, and results in the kind of headlines the government would prefer not to see.
But in spite of this, or even because of it, the government should grant the Auditor-General’s request for a budget increase. If for no other reason, the Auditor-General is, aside from the Opposition, the taxpayers last line of defense against reckless, irresponsible spending. As you may have noticed, governments have proven time and time again that they can’t be trusted to police themselves. We need that outside watchdog.
To any given government, increasing the AG’s budget may seem tantamount to handing your executioner extra bullets, and it may seem an odd request from someone who regularly warns the government it is spending too much money. But actually, it is the best investment the government could make, if being accountable to taxpayers matters.
MacPherson’s budget is substantially lower than those of her counterparts in other provinces of similar size, and she makes the point that she can barely scratch the surface of what she could be doing, like examining departments that haven’t been audited in years.
Who knows what inefficiencies she would find, but it is all but guaranteed she would find some. I would dare say there is little doubt about it, because she seems to find them everywhere else she looks.
While it is Brian Gallant’s Liberals that are currently in her crosshairs because they are the government, it is interesting to note Blaine Higgs response to this week’s report. He makes the point that the AG is right about the province’s finances, and to that end he contrasts his election strategy of few or even no spending promises, to Gallant’s, which includes lots of spending announcements. Haven’t heard Gallant yet include a budget increase for the AG as one of those spending commitments though.
And unless I missed it, Higgs hasn’t said he will increase the AG’s budget either. He shies away from saying he will make cuts to turn our financial ship around, except to say he will cut where it is determined we aren’t getting good value. There are real questions as to whether that would be enough to make the kind of difference MacPherson says is required, but that’s another topic for another day. But Higgs should now go the extra step and commit to an increased Auditor-General budget, on the basis that that would certainly be good value, in that it would help him find what he says he is determined to look for, inefficiencies in government. After all, that is kind of her thing.
UPDATE: Since this was first published this morning I have received several messages saying Higgs committed to an increase of $250,000 per year for four years for the AG, if he's elected. The messages say this commitment was made in a scrum but that the media failed to report it. This includes a message from a PC MLA. I am trying to verify but wanted to share this as an update.
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