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EDITORIAL: Making government accountable

P.E.I.'s auditor general Jane MacAdam has announced she will retire on March 31. Guardian file photo
P.E.I.'s auditor general Jane MacAdam has announced she will retire on March 31. Guardian file photo

It must be nice to look back at your career and know that your contributions made a positive impact on the lives of Islanders.

Jane MacAdam can certainly make that claim. MacAdam has worked in the Island’s Auditor General’s Office for four decades, and has served as the auditor general since 2013.

She has announced that she is retiring. March 31 will be her last day.

A motion to approve an auditor general candidate requires at least two-thirds of votes in the P.E.I. legislature. MacAdam was approved unanimously.

The auditor general’s contributions can’t be underestimated.

MacAdam’s annual reports dissected the province’s financial position but also examined the effectiveness of government departments and a variety of programs.

Speaking with The Guardian, she cites three reports that stood out over the years: the collaborative audit with other Canadian auditor generals on climate change commitments and another collaborative audit on concerns over how the Atlantic Lottery Corporation is governed.

It is the last highlight she cites that Islanders will remember most – the audit on the province’s failed egaming initiative.

The scathing report found that the province had an overall disregard for taxpayers' interests and that many decisions were made without transparency and accountability.

But there were many other issues that she took on: social assistance, child protection, diabetes prevention and early learning and childcare centres.

It’s disappointing that several of her recommendations were never adopted. In her March 2019 report, she pointed out that only one of eight recommendations regarding contaminated government-owned sites on P.E.I. were adopted after they were first released four years earlier. Similar shortfalls in adopting recommendations were found in relation to Access P.E.I., out-of-province health services and government writeoffs and cancellations.

It is also disappointing that issues, such as concerns over climate change commitments, transparency in petroleum pricing and whistleblower legislation, are still unresolved.

As well, government and its partners are not always timely in handing over documentation for the office to scrutinize. In the case of one law firm in the e-gaming scandal, they never did hand over the documents required.

MacAdam was more than an accountant. She was a critic who embraced the position’s mandate as a nonpartisan, independent and objective voice that held departments and agencies accountable and ensured that government was being financially responsible.

MacAdam has one last report to deliver, likely in mid-March. She leaves the position with many accomplishments, but also with much work on P.E.I. left to be done.

As we transition into appointing a new auditor general, the position needs improvements. If a recommendation is cast aside, the government should be required to give the public timely reasons for doing so. If the office asks for documentation, they should get it.

Holding the government accountable is the most important position in the province. Let’s give the next auditor general the tools needed to do that job to the best of his or her ability.

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