New Brunswick

Province appoints three people to head up independent offices in N.B.

The Higgs government has appointed three new independent watchdogs, two of whom had their independence immediately questioned by opposition parties.

Opposition parties question whether two of the new watchdogs are truly 'independent'

Premier Blaine Higgs says he had no role in the search for candidates, which involved an arms-length committee. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

The Higgs government has appointed three new independent watchdogs, two of whom had their independence immediately questioned by opposition parties.

The appointees include a former chief of staff to a previous Progressive Conservative premier, and a former Liberal cabinet minister who later became an informal adviser to Premier Blaine Higgs.

Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau called their independence is "questionable" and said the notion that opposition parties were "consulted" is a misnomer. 

"That consultation means a phone call to say 'This is who we've chosen.'"

Liberal Leader Roger Melanson, who seconded Higgs's motion in the legislature on all three appointments, said he wasn't really consulted either, but he was required to attach his name to the motions.

"It's part of the tradition. It's part of the rules. I think it's got to be changed," he said.

While it's a tradition that the leader of the Official Opposition second the nominations as a signal of their independence, it's not legally required.

Marie-France Pelletier has been working with Ontario's Landlord and Tenant Board. She was a staffer in the office of former premier Bernard Lord. (Submitted)

Melanson initially said two of the appointees were not independent but then said his complaint was about the selection process, which involved an arm's-length search committee.

The new ombud is Marie-France Pelletier, a New Brunswicker who is now a member of the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board.

As ombud, she will field and investigate complaints from the public about government functions.

Pelletier was a staffer in Premier Bernard Lord's office at the same time current Local Government Reform Minister Daniel Allain worked there.

She rose to the position of deputy minister to Lord in 2006. Since then she has held public administration positions in Ottawa and Montreal.

The new child, youth and senior advocate is Kelly Lamrock, a former Liberal MLA and minister who quit the party to run for the NDP in the 2014 election. He later acted as an informal adviser to Higgs, helping draft the premier's 2018 Throne Speech.

Lawyer Kelly Lamrock will be the province's new child, youth and senior advocate. A former Liberal education minister in the Shawn Graham government, he also ran for the NDP and worked as an informal adviser to Blaine Higgs. (CBC)

Both appointments are for seven-year terms.

The premier called Pelletier "a very capable individual" whom he had never met and said he had no role in coming up with the names.

"I had no reason to question the proposals that came forward," he said.

He acknowledged Lamrock's "history in most parties" but said the former education minister would make a good advocate for children. 

"Certainly he's demonstrated his capabilities … no matter what team he's on at the time," Higgs said.

Lamrock said in an interview that his position is designed to be independent, answerable only to the legislature, and he would "call balls and strikes" on government policy without any concern about political repercussions.

"I stand on my record," he said. "I understand who my responsibility is to."

New Brunswick's new auditor general will be Paul Martin, who has been working as the province's comptroller in the Finance Department (Submitted)

The third appointee is Paul Martin as the new auditor general for a term of 10 years. 

Martin is now the comptroller or head auditor within the Finance Department. It's the third time in a row someone in that job became auditor general.

Martin has no partisan connections but the practice of appointing Finance Department officials as auditor general has come under scrutiny.

Earlier this year Brent White, a former auditor in the auditor general's office, argued that government should not have a role in choosing officials who once oversaw government spending for a job that requires independent scrutiny of government spending.

Higgs said Wednesday that two previous comptrollers who became auditors general, Mike Ferguson and Kim Adair-MacPherson, turned out to be excellent at doing that.

"I think they demonstrated not only a knowledge they get of government from the comptroller's role but also a knowledge of what's required from an A-G."

In January, Melanson supported White's call to put the selection process entirely in the hands of the legislature, eliminating the role the executive branch of government now plays.

But Wednesday he said Martin "is independent, obviously" and is "highly qualified from an accounting perspective."

People's Alliance leader Kris Austin said he had no issues with the choices.

Opposition Leader Roger Melanson supported a call to put the selection of auditor general into the hands of the full legislature. (CBC)

"At the end of the day, it's really about the quality of the work that's done on a go-forward basis when they do take their positions." 

Melanson said Pelletier "does have qualifications, for sure" but wouldn't say whether Lamrock could be seen as independent.

"Is he independent enough? He certainly has some background politically. We'll see what he does in terms of being the youth advocate." 

Pelletier could not be reached for an interview about her appointment.

Martin said in an email he was humbled at the opportunity to serve as auditor general.

"I look forward to continuing the great work of the office with a dedicated team of professionals during my mandate," he said.

He wouldn't comment on the argument that the executive branch shouldn't have a role in choosing an auditor general from within its own ranks.

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