Biting the hand that hits

 

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Government watchdogs are constitutionally bred to be independent, objective, honest, and, of course, funded. How else can they protect the people’s business from the occasional, sometimes unwitting, predations of their political caretakers?

But, every so often, when its collar is fixed too tightly and its leash is tugged too quickly, even the best-behaved terrier of truth will snarl, spit and promptly defecate on the shoes of its hapless walker.

And so, we witness New Brunswick Auditor-General Kim MacPherson playing “bad dog” in Premier Brian Gallant’s four-year obedience class.

To be sure, Ms. MacPherson insists that her province-wide road show explaining what she does for living, why it’s important, and how it helps democracy from slipping into the black hole of ambivalence has nothing to do with politics.

Forget the fact that her budget’s been frozen at $2 million a year, that she needs staff to finish the work she’s legally obligated to complete, and that her cries to obtain these resources might as well be dog whistles falling on the ears of deaf ministers.

No, no, she says, her new “outreach program” has everything to do with –for lack of better words – proactivity and positivity. (Lord knows, children, we need more of that in the spin-cities of Canadian governance).

Let me make myself perfectly clear, she told Saint John Telegraph-Journal legislative scribe Chris Morris, this week, “It (the speaking tour) stems from the fact that in the past year we have a new strategic plan, and one of the strategic objectives is to increase public awareness of the role of the auditor general and the reports. It is to make people more aware of our work.”

Funny, that. Back in March before the snow melted and the dog parks opened, Ms. MacPherson had this to say: “I feel that out office is under-resourced. We’re barely scratching the surface. There is much more that we could and should be doing.”

Now, she tells Ms. Morris, “I am conscious of the fact that these are difficult fiscal times, and it is difficult to come up with new money to add to anyone’s budget.”

Still, the A-G is angling to become a particular animal that no sitting government of any political stripe ever wants to see: a political watchdog that’s determined to issue regular, scheduled reports throughout a given year rather than one, annual omnibus piece that’s doomed to obscurity. In this she’s counting on the media to wag her tail (your welcome, auditor).

As Ms. Morris quotes Ms. MacPherson as saying, “It is too much content all at once – about 1,000 pages in one day. We have decided to stagger the content. We are now working on a report to be tabled in mid-June.”

Can’t you just hear the factotums in the Premier’s Office now grind their canines at night? Oh wonderful, they are chomping, how exquisite. How, on earth, did we get ourselves into this particular kennel?

For her part, the A-G has found her freedom by digging under the cage that trapped her. She’s in the wind, happily barking and yipping, paroling the boundaries between official, government bafflegab and the numbers that tell at least some version of the truth about public spending.

According to Ms. Morris: “MacPherson said that when she is in St. Stephen (her first public appearance on her provincial tour), she will talk about the fiscal situation of the province, and some of her office’s recent performance reviews, including the report on the now-defunct Atcon group of companies.”

Bark! Bark!

Bad dog!

Ouch!

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