How delicious is the irony, how coarse and familiar are the political moats and keeps this government – indeed, every provincial regime since New Brunswick joined confederation some 148 years ago – dig and erect to protect their silos of interest.
Just as the Liberal regime of Brian Gallant invites citizens of this jurisdiction to suggest ways and means for improving the business and order of elective representation here, the premier, himself, chooses to take a broad swipe at two men who have done nothing but accept his request.
Are not provincial Ombudsman Charles Murray and Child and Youth Advocate Norman Bosse also citizens? And, in the course of their duties as officers of the Legislative Assembly, are they not, perhaps, better qualified than most to offer sound and cogent advice to the body politic?
What, indeed, disqualifies their opinions – apart from the fact that, as agents of civil administration, their utterances can, and do, embarrass the temporary overlords of the common weal?
A week ago, in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, Messrs. Murray and Bosse issued a stern rebuke of the current and common practice of staying any and all investigations into potential conflicts of interest by elected members of the Assembly who have, for whichever reasons, ceased to sit as functioning MLAs.
In their joint commentary, the two officials point out that “when allegations of misconduct are made against our elected representatives, all New Brunswickers have an interest in the result. If an MLA has been unfairly accused, that Member deserves to be exonerated by a completed process, rather than have their reputation permanently marked by the accusation. Where the Member has erred, they deserve the censure appropriate to their misconduct and all Members can learn from the guidance the investigation provides.”
Moreover, they state, “Requiring investigations to end when a Member resigns or is defeated gives an incentive for trivial complaints and encourages delay and non-co-operation on the part of the investigated – a problem Conflict of Interest Commissioners past and present have noted in their reports.”
In fact, a simple legislative solution exists, to wit:
“A similar loophole for lawyers was closed in the statute governing the province’s Law Society decades ago with very little debate. If we allowed Doctors to end investigations about their conduct by resigning (we don’t), the Legislative Assembly could be expected to react with outrage. Why the double standard?”
But rather than embracing this worthy advice, Mr. Gallant decided to shoot from his hip, declaring, in effect, that none of this was Messrs. Murray’s and Bosse’s business. Responding to questions, the premier declared last week that he was “a bit surprised to see the ombudsman and the child and youth advocate speak about this.”
He continued: “I’m not 100 per cent sure exactly why they felt it was their place to make (a) comment. This is the conflict of interest commissioner’s role and we will certainly speak to him to see how we can improve the rules. . .I’m not sure how the child and youth advocate has a role to play when it comes to conflict of interest with politicians.”
Again, though, doesn’t everyone in this province have “a role to play when it comes to conflict of interest with politicians”?
Or should we all just shut up whenever an elected representative, accused of wrongdoing and under investigation, chooses to avoid a public roasting by resigning his post or refusing to re-offer?
More to the point, perhaps, is this: What is the role of this province’s legislative watchdogs, if not to point out when New Brunswick’s various emperors have somehow forgotten to wear their clothes?
Suggesting that a duly appointed ombudsman and child and youth advocate should stick to their knitting betrays a fundamental misapprehension of how a healthy democracy works.
In our system, justice, law and morality should never operate behind moats and keeps and silos, guarded by politicians and their intellectually corpulent operatives.
All of this smacks of politics-as-usual, back-room smarminess, something that New Brunswick can no longer tolerate (if it ever could).
Keep biting the hands that swipe you.