Inside Politics

LobbyWatch: Who audits the auditor general selection process?

During the last half hour of what turned out to be a surprisingly lively Friday morning Question Period, Liberal MP Gerry Byrne raised a heretofore unmentioned non-language-related concern with the selection process that resulted in the nomination of the now famously unilingual Michael Ferguson as the next Auditor General of Canada: the presence of a registered lobbyist -- Canadian Institute for Chartered Accountants president Kevin Dancey -- on the internal advisory committee charged with screening potential candidates and making a recommendation to the government on who to appoint to the job.

Dancey's involvement with the committee was reported last November by the Hill Times.

According to a PCO spokesperson Raymond Rivet, the committee was chaired by then-Treasury Board President Stockwell Day; in addition to Dancey, its members included Treasury Board Secretary Michelle d'Auray and Comptroller General James Ralston, as well as "a former auditor general and a former deputy minister of Finance." (Dancey himself is a former Finance assistant deputy minister.)

At that time, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants was, in fact, registered to lobby not only the Office of the Auditor General, but also the Office of the Comptroller General and Treasury Board Secretariat. 

A quick scan of the communications logs filed by CICA during that time period reveals that the previous month, he reported meetings with both Ralston and then-deputy Auditor General John Wiersema to discuss "taxation and finance" issues. It's worth noting that this does not necessarily mean that Dancey himself was at those meetings; as responsible officer, he is obliged to sign off on all communications logs. 

At the very least, it's fair to say that the optics of inviting a lobbyist -- and not just any lobbyist, but one registered to lobby not only the office to be filled, but the offices of at least three of his fellow selection committee members -- to take part in the selection process are less than optimal, particularly given this particular government's penchant to pat itself on the back for imposing a regime that even some card-carrying Conservative-supporting lobbyists will privately describe as 'draconian', particularly with the clock ticking down on the much-anticipated mandatory five-year review of the changes brought in as part of the Federal Accountability Act. 

That said, given the nature of the job -- which really could be described as the Accountant General of Canada -- and the obvious expertise and experience that CICA - and its president - would bring to the table, there is no evidence that there was anything untoward in the decision to include Dancey in the process, and it's equally fair to ask whether this would this even have surfaced as an issue had Ferguson's nomination not already been beset by controversy over his failure to hold the required proficiency in both official languages listed as a requirement in the original job posting. 

In response to Byrne's query, parliamentary secretary Andrew Saxton declined to address the issue of Dancey's presence on the committee, choosing instead to quote - repeatedly - former Auditor General Sheila Fraser, who has characterized Ferguson as both very competent and a "very nice person." 

Still, one suspects the question of Dancey's presence on the selection committee may come up again - albeit indirectly - when the man who will likely be the next auditor general goes before the public accounts committee next week.
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