The New Brunswick Legislature will study whether to cut some of the independent officer positions that play a watchdog role over government actions.

Speaker Chris Collins made the announcement Tuesday afternoon after a meeting of an all-party committee.

He says the Liberal house leader asked the committee to consider the request as part of the government's Strategic Program Review.

"They're looking to have, maybe, perhaps, even a reduction in the number of officers," Collins said. "We do have nine whether other [provinces] have four or five, so there may be some very quick, low-hanging fruit there in cost savings," he said.

Collins says nothing in the review will jeopardize the independence of the officers or their mandates, but it's likely some of the positions will be eliminated and combined.

"We need to make sure the effectiveness of these individuals and the different acts are represented in what we do," he said. "We may be able to do it by combining some of them. There are a lot of different ways to do it."

There are eight officers appointed by the Legislature: the auditor-general, the chief electoral officer, the ombudsman, the access to information and privacy commissioner, the conflict of interest commissioner, the commissioner of official languages, the consumer advocate for insurance and the child and youth advocate.

A ninth position, the lobbyist registrar, has been created by new legislation but hasn't been filled yet.

The position of conflict of interest commissioner is vacant at the moment.

Collins says there's no link between this move and the recent controversy over an investigation by languages commissioner Katherine d'Entremont.

"Language rights are an important point and they will be protected," he said. The terms of reference for the review say explicitly that existing protections must be preserved.

"There won't be any change. We're trying to find efficiencies in delivering these protections."

Collins says there's no targeted amount of money the Legislature hopes to save. He says the review will be done by Jan. 15, 2016.

He says all the legislative officers were sent a letter after today's committee meeting.

Some of them were appointed recently for seven-year terms. Collins didn't say whether they would have to be paid severance if their positions disappear.

Collins said an earlier report by former ombudsman Bernard Richard will be "dusted off" and become the basis of this review.


2011 report

In 2011, Richard issued a 74-page report that called for several changes to how independent officers operate in the province.

Bernard Richard

Bernard Richard, the former ombudsman and child and youth advocate, wrote a 2011 report that called for changes to how independent officers operate. (CBC)

Richard's report called for the number of legislative officers to be reduced to six from eight and steps be taken so that the independent officers be located in the same office to reduce costs.

Richard recommended the Office of the Ombudsman take on the roles performed by the conflict-of-interest commissioner and the consumer advocate for insurance.

He also recommended that no other independent officers be created until "New Brunswick's fiscal situation improves significantly and sustainably."

Richard recommended that these watchdogs get more say in their annual budgets through the province's Legislative Affairs Committee.

He also called for the appointment for legislative officers to fall clearly under the authority of the legislature.