After weeks of internal speculation, Premier David Alward shuffled the senior ranks of the civil service. A deputy minister shake up is pretty standard fare after an election so releasing the information on a quiet Monday is no big deal.

Often senior civil servants will use the transition of government as a convenient time to step aside. And just as often, incoming premiers welcome the opportunity to usher in new thinking to departments as they hope to implement their agenda.

There are many interesting subplots in Alward's shuffle. But most interesting is the swap at the Department of Finance. Auditor General Mike Ferguson, who served as the province's comptroller from 2000 to 2005, is moving over to become the deputy minister of finance. And replacing Ferguson is Kim MacPherson, the province's comptroller.

Other than the cute little game of musical chairs being played between the Department of Finance and the Office of the Auditor General, there is a significant reason why these two appointments should be closely examined.

Ferguson's and MacPherson's qualifications are not in dispute. But how many times did we hear Alward say during the NB Power saga that process matters? And this is a situation where process matters.

The Office of the Comptroller is the internal auditing office of the New Brunswick government. So MacPherson has been hand-picked by the Alward government to be an independent watchdog and in the next few years she will be auditing the books that, in effect, she should have been watching over as comptroller. It puts the new auditor general in a possible conflict of interest.

Before anyone points out that Ferguson managed to avoid a similar conflict of interest when he made the transition, there is a fundamental fact missing in this latest appointment. The former Bernard Lord government hired Caldwell Partners, a national executive search firm, to find a short list of qualified candidates. And then a group of deputy ministers and Caldwell Partners interviewed the candidates and Ferguson was selected. The process was open, as the public knew it was happening at the time, and it was well explained by the former Tory administration. THis set a high bar for future appointments.

It should be clear, MacPherson's appointment does not violate the Auditor General's Act. The act clearly describes how the provincial cabinet is to appoint an auditor general. It is not up to the legislative assembly and there is nothing forcing the government to hire an executive search firm. Though if Alward the Lord cabinet minister thought it was a good idea then it begs the question why did Alward the premier opt for the short cut?

The former Liberal government did allow for some public input when it opened the position of information commissioner up for resumes. It may have been a token effort after this blog raised the issue of a lack of openness surrounding the appointment process but at least an effort was made to shine some light on the appointment process.

As Alward has said in the past, process matters. The selection process of MacPherson as auditor general is overshadowing what may turn out to be a solid choice.
-- Daniel McHardie

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