Progressive Conservative MLAs sitting on the Standing Committee for Legislative Offices voted last week to deny a request from Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff to reinstate more than $200,000 in funding cut in Dec. 2014. At the same committee meeting, MLAs voted to reinstated more than $500,000 in funding previously cut from the Office of the Auditor General.
Sending a strong message that he just might not trust his party’s MLAs to act unsupervised, Premier Jim Prentice held a press conference shortly after the vote and publicly ordered his PC MLAs to backtrack on their decision to reinstate the Auditor General funding. This move served to redirect the public focus from cuts to the Child and Youth Advocate and on the cuts to the Auditor General.
Mr. Prentice’s directive removes the thin veneer of “committee independence.” It was always assumed that PC MLAs received their marching orders from the Premier’s Office, but typically those types of dispatches are sent from the 3rd floor before the committee meetings, not after the votes have already been counted.
Responding to his new orders, committee chairman Matt Jeneroux hastily scheduled a meeting for this week, allowing the PC MLAs to change their minds and vote how Mr. Prentice directed them to.
Not one of the Progressive Conservative MLAs on the committee, including former Wildrose MLAs Gary Bikman and Jeff Wilson, had the fortitude to defend the decision they made last week. Only NDP MLA David Eggen and Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman voted against the funding cut.
And now, because of Mr. Prentice’s orders, both the Auditor General and Child and Youth Advocate will face budget cuts this year.
Looking past the thick-rhetoric of “tough economic times,” the Office of the Auditor General is probably the last office of the Legislature that should have its funding cut. As Mr. Prentice and Finance Minister Robin Campbell plan to impose a 9% across the board budget cut, the Auditor General should have the funding available to audit the financial statements and the systems of government.
Last year, Auditor General Merwan Saher released a damning report into former Premier Alison Redford‘s misuse of government aircraft. The public outrage generated by that report forced former Premier Dave Hancock to request an R.C.M.P. investigation into Ms. Redford’s activities.
With an election expected within weeks, the 43-year long governing PCs are likely cautious of any further scandals or critiques that a fully-funded Auditor General could uncover.
This is not the first time the PCs have cut funding to the Auditor General.
In 2009, then-Auditor General Fred Dunn announced the delay or cancellation of 27 out of 80 planned system and financial audits due to lack of financial resources. At the time, backbench PC MLA Jonathan Denis (now Justice Minister) was quoted as justifying the lack of funding to the Auditor General by defending that year’s one-year MLA pay freeze. [editor’s note: Alberta is always in tough economic times]
The 2009 funding cut came soon after Mr. Dunn’s office reported the PC Government kept quiet for 3 years about reports showing the province could bring in more than $1 billion in additional royalties each year without harming industry, that a former PC cabinet minister and his top aide charged nearly $50,000 in personal expenses to their government credit cards, and that the PC government’s poor planning left it with a maintenance backlog of roughly $6.1 billion.
Raj Sherman is back
Only weeks after resigning as Liberal leader and announcing his retirement as MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark, Raj Sherman has been hired by the Liberal Party the campaign manager for the 2015 election campaign. It is unclear why interim leader David Swann has hired his predecessor, or what real campaign management experience the retiring politician brings to the table. Truly bizarre.