19 July 2006

The Keystone Kops of Konfederation Building

Two odd things turned up in a news release today from harvey Hodder announcing that John Noseworthy is going back to the House of Assembly to conduct either a mulligan or a snipe hunt in the ongoing legislature spending scandal.

The first one is in the opening paragraph, itself a masterpiece of abysmal writing:
Following a meeting of the Internal Economy Commission and conversations with the Auditor General, Speaker Harvey Hodder announced today that, in accordance with Section 16(1) of the Auditor General Act, the Auditor General has asked for and received cabinet direction to conduct comprehensive annual audits of the accounts of the House of Assembly from fiscal years 1999/2000 to 2003/04.
Section 16(1) of the Auditor General Act provides that, based on an order from the Lieutenant governor-in-council or a resolution the House of Assembly, the AG may "inquire into and report on a matter relating to the financial affairs of the province or to public property or inquire into and report on a person or organization that has received financial aid from the government of the province or in respect of which financial aid from the government of the province is sought."

This special audit isn't something the AG would ask for; rather it is something that either cabinet or the legislature directs.

As well, there is a separation of the cabinet and the House for good reason. Normally the cabinet would order a special audit into an entity entirely under its control. That means a department of government or a government agency or Crown corporation. Problem with Hydro or the forestry department? Cabinet calls in the AG.

Since the government is accountable to the legislature, and the government has no legal authority to control the House of Assembly or inquire into its operations, any special audit of the House should come only from the House of Assembly. Money missing in the House? The legislature calls in their own employee to sort it out.

This issue is big enough to get all the members back for a quick sitting, at least one long enough to approve a resolution authorizing the Auditor General to sort out the financial mess.

So basically, the release starts out by having the AG ask to do something he is supposed to be told to do. On top of that he is being directed by the cabinet even though there is no statutory basis for cabinet directing the Auditor General to inquire into the legislature. Basically, cabinet has seized control of the elected representatives who are supposed to hold the cabinet to account on our behalf.

Pesky thing the constitution, but the rules are there to be followed not broken. Apparently in this instance though, the way to deal with rule breaking is further rule breaking.

The second thing is inadvertent humour. At the end of the release, Speaker Harvey Hodder tries to wax poetic on the need for accountability and transparency. Of course, no one is fooled by Hodder's sudden conversion to the cause of openness in government.

His argument in favour of keeping accounts secret took yet another savaging in The Telegram's editorial pages on the same day he made the announcement of the AG's latest foray into Hodder's office looking for baloney or snipe.

For the record, here's the poetic speaker in full flight:
Trust and confidence is fostered where public disclosure and transparency permeates the principles upon which public funds are received and where the expectation of public accountability and disclosure is understood and practiced.
The Telegram version was more understandable and more credible:

Actions speak louder than words.

Harvey needs a dose of plain language training.