Quote of the week
“We are proposing the creation of a Financial Accountability Officer to further enhance the openness and transparency of government.”
— Charles Sousa, Ontario Minister of Finance
The Ontario government is moving forward with the creation of a new position called the Financial Accountability Officer to provide “independent analysis to the Assembly about the state of the Province’s finances, including the budget.” Bill 95 has passed second reading in the legislature.
It would seem that the Ontario government plans with this position to mirror that of the federal Parliamentary Budget Officer. It is no secret that Kevin Page, the former PBO, had a difficult time of it, and his successor already seems to be facing challenges.
The Ontario Financial Accountability Officer is also expected to respond to requests from members of the legislature for financial analysis. And among other tasks, he or she is to provide an independent financial analysis of any bill and the estimates.
This position is accountable to the Assembly, and not the government of the day, which can only be a good thing as it is likely to ensure independence. Also, the budget for the office will be appropriated by the legislature as opposed to the government. Of course, the Board of Internal Economy can review the budget, and if the government of the day controls the legislature…
Still, we can only hope that this works. The notion of an office that has the teeth and real capacity to provide independent, non-partisan financial review is a good one. It has been unfortunate that the federal PBO didn’t have the appropriate tools and strength to perform that role.
According to Page, the reason was that the government regretted creating the office because it interpreted the PBO’s work as an attack on its credibility. This was especially evident in its responses to the PBO reports on the costs of the war in Afghanistan and the F-35, as well as its efforts to find out the true costs of the deficit reduction exercise. Perhaps in response to this last episode, the Ontario bill states that ministries are required to provide any financial information that the Officer requests.
It looks like the government is serious about making sure that the Ontario Financial Accountability Officer has the appropriate accountabilities to remain independent. The next question will be whether the office gets the resources it needs to do the job right.