By: Graham Lane
Manitoba government doesn’t leave room for the rest of society to breathe. It uses its power to reward friends and deter dissent. There should be room for people to act and speak freely. Now we have a provincial government that seeks to control and politicize far too much.
Within the provincial government itself, power should be divided. There should be checks and balances. Public sector officials and employees should be encouraged to exercise and voice their own best professional judgment.
The next government has vast opportunities to improve the transparency and performance of provincial governance, including taking these steps:
– The merit principle should be written into the law for appointments to public sector boards, agencies and commissions. We need transparency in identifying qualifications to serve and about the background of those selected.
– The provincial government should no longer pressure Crown agencies behind the scenes. If the government wants to order crown corporations to override their own best judgment of the public interest, this should be done by a public directive, with reasons given and a period for public comment before it comes into force.
– The Crown Corporations Public Review and Accountability Act and its Council (ever heard of either?) should be replaced by a new system to ensure that crowns live up to the highest possible standards of performance, accountability and independence.
– The role of independent officers of the Legislative Assembly should be expanded and strengthened. Members of Parliament and the public benefit from the thorough and objective reports that the Library of Parliament regularly delivers. Manitoba needs an equivalent research resource.
– Manitoba also needs the equivalent of the Parliament of Canada Budget Officer, to provide non-partisan analysis of legislative proposals and general economic challenges.
– Much public policy is actually made by regulation, not legislation. The regulation-making process, unlike the legislative one, has no provision for public input. Proposed regulations should be released in draft form accompanied by an impact analysis. The public should have the chance to comment.
– Watchdog offices should be strengthened so that the public can count on their independence. Appointment to offices such as provincial auditor, chief electoral officer, ombudsman and PUB chair should require the agreement of the opposition. These officials’ pay should be tied to an objective benchmark. (i.e. a % of a judge’s salary). If the government and opposition do not agree, an interim officer should be appointed by an independent commission.
– There needs to be a broadening of the authority of other watchdogs, such as the Children’s Advocate and the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
– The auditor general should have the authority to publicly recommend the holding of a public inquiry. The NDP government came to power because Premier Filmon, to his credit, ordered one into a vote-splitting scandal. No public inquiry has since been held into equally troubling issues.
– Public sector advertising should be vetted by the auditor general. It must be strictly informational, not partisan propaganda paid for by taxpayers.
Reform of governance should be among the highest priorities of the next provincial government. It should be transparent, open, and make decisions on rational grounds, rather than patronage, pork-barrelling and the pursuit of partisan advantage.
Graham Lane chairs Manitoba Forward (www.manitobaforward.ca), focused on sound public policy. Bryan Schwartz co-wrote this column and is a law professor and author of “Revitalizing Manitoba.” Republished from the Winnipeg Sun online edition March 10, 2016.
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