Hey LAC, while you're at it

March 18, 2010 9:04 AM

It's heartening to see the ultra-secretive Standing Committee on Legislative Administration Committee (simply known as LAC around the parliamentary precinct) meet to discuss whether they should actually have the independent review of MLA pensions that they agreed to two years ago. There is one more agenda item that should be reconsidered.

LAC is also considering the appointment of a new information commissioner. As some people may remember, the Liberal government modernized the Right to Information Act with the new Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which calls for a stand-alone office that deals solely with information and privacy issues, including complaints from citizens who feel the government isn't complying with the law. A stand-alone office then allows Bernard Richard to focus squarely on his ombudsman and child and youth advocate responsibilities. Sounds good, right?

Though I could argue over the substantive problems with the new law (such as the "democracy tax" imposed earlier this year), what should be more of a concern is the fact the new information commissioner is being decided behind LAC's closed doors and without a public search.

It stands to reason that the public will not know the short-list of people who are up for the job. When the former Progressive Conservative government went hunting for new NB Power board members, they hired Caldwell Partners and did the same for the members of the Energy and Utilities Board. Caldwell Partners also advertised for the auditor-general's position when Daryl Wilson retired. The search firm interviewed candidates to whittle down a short list and then the finalists were interviewed by a panel of four deputy ministers and a representative from Caldwell Partners. Though the interviews weren't done in public, the process gives the public more confidence that the government canvassed for the best possible candidate in the country.

It is legitimate to criticize the Bernard Lord government for simply appointing Bernard Richard to the ombudsman's post and Elizabeth Weir to the position of chief executive officer of Efficiency New Brunswick, and the Graham government for appointing Richard to become child and youth advocate without a national search. The first two appointments went to competent people, though they also served the government's political interest by turning Lord's one-seat margin in the Legisature to a two-seat edge.

The appointment of an information commissioner is critical because if it is given to a partisan lapdogm that person could simply stymie the public's access to information for five years (in the hopes of being reappointed for a second term) and allow a government to simply throw up more barriers to information. The province aims to have the new information commissioner appointed by early to mid-April. While LAC is deciding on the pension review, wouldn't it be just as wise to conduct a proper search? We've heard a lot about how process is important in recent months. Isn't this process important to the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives too

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