Good Governance – Why does it matter?

Jennifer McKenzie, The Daily Gleaner, October 4, 2017

When I left as outgoing Chair of the Ottawa School Board, the staff gave each of us a children’s book that best described our personality.  As part of a ratpack of five New Democrats, we had spent eight years working together overhauling the governance model of the school board and we had all gotten to know each other rather well.  The book they gave me was called Mathematics and Big Ideas.

Part of our overhaul of the Board was to clearly define roles and responsibilities.  Politicians govern and staff administer.  No more politicians meddling in the day to day operations of the board and no more staff doing politics.  As we set the policy, goals and controls to monitor progress, the senior staff grew able to read our minds (well it was all written down) and administer their staff to meet our objectives.  Still, it was very disconcerting to get a book that had me pegged so well.

So when Terry Seguin asked us to speak on the Public Accounts Committee on the CBC political panel last week, I was on solid ground.  After reading much of the background material for the Public Accounts Committee, I found the mechanisms, levers and controls that are used to drive and control the various ministries within the Government of New Brunswick.

Three things struck me.  First, the series of unfortunate decisions and mistakes that this government has been making is not a random sequence at all but rather by their own design.  The strategic priorities at the beginning of each Liberal Government report in recent months are listed as Jobs, Fiscal Responsibility and best place to raise a family, whatever that means.  Nowhere is the health and well being of our citizens listed, nor other priorities that matter to the people of New Brunswick.

And so, it should come as no surprise then should it, that we spray our forest and our citizens with glyphosate and other chemicals in the name of jobs and big business.  It comes as no surprise that we pay bags of money to big business enterprises for dubious job creation exercises. It comes as no surprise that important healthcare gets shuffled off to business entreprises to manage.  And no wonder that people were allowed to swim in sewage at Parlee Beach for so many years.

The second thing that struck me was the lack of the front end work needed to do things right the first time.  I love the creative front end of a process best of all.  By doing this part right, you can strategically (and less expensively) knife edge to a solution that is well thought through and likely to be successful.  It is the time where you collect best practices and  evidence-based research from around the world, where you collect all the data, statistics and background material you can find to make the right decision and the time when you talk to all the people who work on the front lines and others as well to learn how to best solve the challenges in front as they see them every day.

One of the most important ingredients of any creative process is to have a large diversity of views and perspectives at the table.  The thirteen men who sit on the Public Accounts Committee all have the identical perspective of a middle age white guy.  Is it any wonder that women’s, youth’s, seniors’s and minority views – hugely important if you are going to represent the whole population of New Brunswick – are completely missing from our governance model?

It comes as no surprise that literacy and numeracy scores are stagnant in our schools and communities. That the government’s response to the ice storm which is to amalgamate municipalities – a mostly blame the victim exercise –was doomed to fail.  And that the property tax fiasco is still stumbling along and getting worse by the day.

The third thing that struck me was the obfuscation of any substantive financial information.  Any governor worth her or his salt know one must follow the money to really get to the heart of the priorities and understand the activities of an institution.  Where was the financial information they need to do that? Nowhere to be found.

That is why the NDP is calling for a Legislative Budget Officer, of the kind found in the Federal Government, Ontario, the US and other jurisdictions, who would be responsible for providing financial information to the committee and other opposition members on request.  Having this type of function in government led to the defeat of Trumpcare when it was revealed by the Budget Officer that 32 Million people would lose their health coverage.  It led to the exposure of Harper’s grossly misleading costing of the F35 Bomber program among other things.

We must dare to dream of a New Brunswick with a world class education system, of jobs that youth want to stay for and return to, of a government that looks out for the health and well being of every citizen and that puts the priorities of the people at the forefront of everything we do.  That’s socialism to me.  That is what I bring to you as the leader of the NDP as we vie for your support to govern New Brunswick.  Join me!