By David Archibald
Feb 14, 2012
When Olive Crane, P.E.I.’s Progressive Conservative leader, wrote to the Guardian saying the public accounts committee is flawed and undemocratic. she set off some debate.
Officially termed the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, the committee’s job is to ensure the government is held accountable for its management and use of public funds.
Crane’s concern is the committee has become ineffective due to partisanship and partiality that has crept into its operations.
Stratford MLA James Aylward agrees with his party’s leader and says it has become difficult to do their jobs as official opposition.
“I know it has been very frustrating for MLAs because they’re continually getting stonewalled, as far as getting witnesses to come in or get answers goes at the public accounts meetings,” said the Sherwood native.
The opposition was clear that, while their issues with the system have become more prevalent with the current government, it is the system itself that is flawed.
“Past governments of both stripes have operated the committee this way,” said Aylward. “We don’t feel it’s transparent and we don’t feel it’s very democratic. That’s why we would like to see a more level playing field in public accounts.”
Don Desserud, UPEI dean of arts and a former political science professor at UNB in Saint John, has written reports on the operation of similar committees in New Brunswick. He suggests getting the public more engaged in the process.
“People have no idea how decisions are being made, who’s making them and they don’t feel they have any chance to influence those decisions between elections,” he said.
“These are committees the public knows very little about, yet they have huge responsibilities. There is a fantastic opportunity to provide more leadership and more openness of government without having to reform the entire system.”
Structuring the committees more like their American counterparts could work well in Canada, he said.
“The philosophy of the American committees is that they should be out in the public talking to people and collecting information and facts they need in order to make their decisions.
“Now there are probably lots of problems with that system, but the U.S. is a very big country and most of their problems would be based on the fact that it is very large and it becomes unwieldy.
“Prince Edward Island is not so large, so it wouldn’t be unwieldy here and in fact could work very well.”
Filed under: Uncategorized