Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Neglect of watchdogs shows NDP arrogance

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Carol Bellringer

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Auditor general Carol Bellringer gave notice a year ago she was retiring, effective March 31. Former ombudsman Irene Hamilton resigned more than two years ago to take a government position. Neither of their replacements has been named yet.

Government house leader Andrew Swan says the extraordinary delay was needed because the committee tasked with making appointments wants to get them right.

Can Mr. Swan think Manitobans are so credulous? His government's foot-dragging on hiring these watchdogs is either self-serving or reveals an arrogant disrespect for offices that are key to holding government accountable.

The NDP has a habit of ignoring its responsibility to these appointments. It took three years to confirm Shipra Verma as Manitoba's chief electoral officer. Her predecessor resigned amid considerable controversy and the delay meant Ms. Verma shepherded the office through the 2011 election while in an acting position.

Mr. Swan notes the auditor general and the ombudsman positions have been advertised, but that's small comfort: The legislative affairs committee was given a short list for the electoral officer's position many months before Ms. Verma was hired permanently.

The Opposition Tories say they agreed last August to move on selecting an auditor general and a permanent ombudsman and told the government in November they thought children's advocate Darlene MacDonald, whose term ends this week, should be reappointed.

These offices should not be led by individuals in acting positions indefinitely. Independent officers of the legislature are trusted to act, free of fear or favour, as watchdogs over government and public offices. Tampering with that weakens the perception that they will work solely in the public interest.

The government, through its leadership of the legislative affairs committee, controls this process of search and appointment. In the least, the NDP simply has not made the appointments a priority or uses them as bargaining chips in negotiations on the legislature's agenda.

The continuing abuse of the power over the watchdog-appointments process must be stopped. Except for the children's advocate, which should be governed by its own act, the terms for officers of the legislature are set in legislation. These acts should be amended to include deadlines for when vacancies must be filled by permanent appointments.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2014 A8

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Updated on Monday, April 7, 2014 at 6:58 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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