Laws and accountability


When questions were raised this summer about potential legal ramifications to the handling of the G8 Legacy Fund, I emailed Lorne Sossin (a friend of the show) to get his thoughts. After the interim auditor general again mused of the “interesting debate” that could be had, I checked in with Dean Sossin again to see if he had anything more to add.

His responses to both my queries below.

I think this is one of those arguments that is technically sound (ie. the expenditures of the fund appear to exceed the legal authority) but an area courts would be wary to tread (ie. second guessing the judgment of ministers or Cabinet as to the scope of a spending envelope). This issue arose in the context of the sponsorship affair and Gomery Inquiry as well—how was it that the Government was able, in effect, to create a slush fund for expenditures on advertising subject to virtually no oversight? The answer there and perhaps here is that the impropriety of spending public money for partisan political ends justifies political accountability (and the Auditor General’s oversight in this regard seems to make the necessary point). A challenge to the expenditures in court (by an interested citizen’s group?) might be useful in keeping the spotlight on the question of political accountability, but otherwise would seem a second-best form of reviewing government spending decisions…

The only addition I would make is that aside from political accountability (Parliamentary committees, etc) the other important safeguard against improper diversion of public funds for partisan ends ought to be the politically neutral public service. Ned Franks has argued for senior public servants (Deputy Ministers, etc) to serve as “accountability officers” particularly with respect to compliance with policies and rules around public spending (http://www.irpp.org/po/archive/oct04/franks.pdf). Whether or not that is the optimal model, my point is that there need to be safeguards within the machinery of government spending that ensure the policy decisions which justifiably belong to Cabinet or Ministers are carried out in a fashion that does not overstep the legitimate uses of public funds.


Laws and accountability

  1. Oh yeah, right, senior public officials have the power to stop this kind of thing without massive sacrifice of their careers for the rest of their working lives.


    Simply put: If you want accountability, you need to give someone the power to enforce it without fear of reprisal.

    Anything else is patchwork and WILL fail.

    I mean come on.

  2. I agreed with the former interim auditor general when he responded to members of the Public
    Accounts committee: there is no need for new laws about this matter: there is only need to adhere to the ones already there. Of course he said, many times, public servants were not involved. Well, strange that some public servants last November in committee said that they were the ones
    who would be checking the bills, payments of the projects. So….they may well have not been involved in the selection of the projects, but somewhere along the way, they were involved.
    Unfortunately. Is the professor saying then that the duty of due diligence of overseeing the public’s monies should be outsourced to third party non-government organizations? Is he stating we need new laws/mechanisms to make sure these so-called ‘slush funds’ are not made?
    Isn’t that what all our checks and balances are set up to do in the first place? Isn’t that what some parts of the criminal code are for as well?
    Who was it then, ministerial perogative?–that set up fifty million dollars and was spending it,
    long before it was even approved to be?Or, just because they said, WHO said? it is and was, made it so…in spite of all that is written as things are to be..in the departments and Treasury Board and so on..not to mention, our elected officials are supposed to know what they are being asked to vote yes or no on..a quaint notion, no? 
    I don’t begrudge folks restitution and remedy and even a legacy from a time when they hosted the planet’s most powerful and the rest of it: and by the way, anyone find the G20 Toronto Legacy Fund anywhere? still…looking….

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