Alward overhauls watchdog selection process

The Alward government is overhauling how it chooses the arm's-length watchdogs who report to the legislature, such as the ombudsman and conflict of interest commissioner.

New committee of bureaucrats, lawyers and academics will review applications

The Alward government is overhauling how it chooses independent officers of the legislature, a group of eight arm's-length watchdogs who report to the legislative assembly.

Up until now, the provincial government has picked people to serve in positions, such as the ombudsman, auditor general, child and youth advocate, conflict of interest commissioner and the official languages commissioner, in consultation with the opposition. The legislature would then approve the choice.

But now, Premier David Alward says a committee of bureaucrats, lawyers and academics will review applications from people interested in the positions.

"They will bring forward qualified names to myself," he said.

"I will be consulting with the leader of the opposition and then recommendations will be made through the legislative assembly."

The creation of the new process will mean a couple of vacancies in the corps of legislative officers.

François Levert, the province's acting ombudsman, has decided to return to his role as director of investigations in the ombudsman's office, and there is no replacement to take on the top job.

The premier says the provincial government will find a replacement soon for Levert, who has been the acting ombudsman for almost two years. But the vacancy doesn't mean New Brunswickers have nowhere to go, he said.

"We will move quickly to ensure the people of New Brunswick do have access to the services of the ombudsman, and we need to realize as well that it's an office, it's not specifically just one individual," Alward said.

The term of Official Languages Commissioner Michel Carrier also expires at the end of the month, with no one selected to replace him yet.

Alward appointed former ombusman and child and youth advocate, Bernard Richard, to lead a task force to review the province's independent officers.

In the 2011 report, Richard recommended cutting the number of these watchdogs to six from eight.

In that report, Richard also made recommendations to put the recruitment and selection of independent officers clearly in the hands of the legislative assembly and not the government.

During the 2010 election, Alward promised to make the human rights commissioner an independent commissioner, as well.