This past Saturday, Michael Ferguson, the auditor general of Canada, passed away after a battle with cancer. He was only 60. There have been several tributes to him, including a good one in the Ottawa Citizen.
The auditor general is one of a small handful of officers of Parliament, including the federal privacy commissioner. What struck me in reading about Ferguson’s lifetime work was, among a great many accomplishments, the fact that he was a rather outspoken public servant who was frustrated with the lack of progress made by our politicians when they received his advice.
Officers of Parliament are in a unique position, and on paper their role is invaluable. But what happens when they provide their advice — sometimes many times over — and both Parliament and the government do nothing meaningful in response?
As a lawyer, I’m paid to provide advice. Almost always, my clients accept my advice and act on it. It happens, on occasion, that they chose a different path. That is their prerogative. For officers of Parliament, however, I think there needs to be more accountability when elected officials do not meaningfully act on the advice they are getting from the people they have appointed. I think we, as citizens, have to hold these politicians to account. In the fall, we are going to be voting for a new federal government. One of the questions I’ll be asking each political party is what they have done to implement the advice from their officers of Parliament, and what they plan on doing going forward. After all, this is expert advice. Why are they so often not following it?
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