N.B. Liberals question AG selection process

The Liberal Opposition is raising questions over the hiring process used by the Progressive Conservative government in naming New Brunswick's auditor general this week.

The Liberal Opposition is raising questions over the hiring process used by the Progressive Conservative government in naming New Brunswick's auditor general this week.

Premier David Alward is being criticized for not holding an open search for New Brunswick's new auditor general. ((CBC))
Premier David Alward announced a deputy minister shuffle on Monday and among the changes Mike Ferguson, the province's current auditor general, moved over to become the deputy minister of finance.

And as a part of the reorganization of the civil service's senior ranks, Alward named Kim MacPherson, the province's comptroller, as Ferguson's replacement.

The auditor general is an independent officer of the legislative assembly and is responsible for being a financial watchdog of the government.

Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault, the opposition's finance critic, said the appointment of the high-profile position runs counter to Alward's claim that he would run an open and transparent government.

"The concern we have is process. Throughout the past year and in the election campaign, David Alward promised New Brunswickers that in the hiring process and in nominations, he would do things different," Arseneault said.

"New Brunswick has not seen anything yet that he is doing anything different. He keeps talking about his word is his contract. And then he keeps breaking that contract."

When Ferguson was appointed auditor general in 2005, he also moved over from the Office of the Comptroller, which is the provincial government's own internal auditing department.

But at that time, the former Progressive Conservative government of Bernard Lord hired Caldwell Partners, an executive placement firm, to execute a national search for an auditor general.

And once a short list was drafted, a panel of deputy ministers, with representation from the search firm, interviewed the candidates.

Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault said the Alward Tories failed up to live up to their earlier promises to be transparent in the hiring process. ((CBC))
When Ferguson was named auditor general, the Opposition Liberals had been advised on the appointment and supported the selection.

Arseneault said the Liberals were not consulted on this appointment.

While serving as a Liberal cabinet minister, Arseneault worked with MacPherson. The Liberal MLA called the incoming auditor general a "tremendous individual" and did not question her ability to do the job.

He also refrained from discussing whether the Liberals felt there was a conflict of interest of having the province's comptroller move over to the Office of the Auditor General.

The auditor general reviews the government's financial books, which may have already been audited by the comptroller's office.

The Auditor General Act states that the provincial cabinet selects the auditor general and does not mandate any specific hiring process.

Ferguson's new position

The Liberals are also planning to carefully watch the performance of Ferguson as the new deputy minister of finance.

Mike Ferguson, the outgoing auditor general, is replacing John Mallory as the deputy minister of finance. ((CBC))
Ferguson is replacing John Mallory, who held the senior position inside the finance department for the last 15 years.

As auditor general, Ferguson was extremely critical of the former Liberal government for its management of the finances and in particular the rising levels of the debt and deficit.

Ferguson is moving over to the position with a new finance minister, who is promising to balance the province's books in the next four years.

The Liberal finance critic said he hopes Alward's "political agenda" does not interfere with Ferguson's performance.

Arseneault pointed to Alward's quick denunciation of Finance Minister Blaine Higgs's comments that the provincial government may increase the Harmonized Sales Tax to balance the budget as a last resort as evidence that politics trumps policy.

"We'll give [Ferguson] time to get comfortable in his role. I think he understands the financial situation of the province. We'll see how much frustration he has with the government," Arseneault said.