Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

The Quest for Accountability in Newfoundland and Labrador

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

The Quest for Accountability in Newfoundland and Labrador

Article excerpt

The legislative audit and its defenders have known many bitter moments in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the battle is not yet won. Entering the twenty-first century, the province was the only one in the country with no accountability and reporting legislation; none of its eighteen government departments and only four of its forty-five publicly funded Crown agencies produced annual reports, and there was no framework of accountability to speak of. (1) Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of those hostile to the extension of the institutions of representative democracy in the province. The deficiencies in the legislative oversight of the public purse are reflective of larger pathologies associated with the role of the legislative power. This article examines the meaning of accountability, eras of Newfoundland political history, stages in the statutory evolution of the comptroller and auditor function, experience in the Confederation era with the concept of democratic accountability, and prospects for it in the future. (2) It argues that the current deficiencies in auditing and democratic representation are rooted in a political culture affected by the late maturing of representative institutions and can only be rectified by a collective prise de conscience.


This article takes both a substantive and a procedural approach to dealing with questions of accountability. That is, it seeks to come to a general understanding of what accountability is, in the context of legislative auditing, but it will also flesh out the implications of the term in an operational sense and, in doing so, clarify it.

Substantively, the meaning of accountability is simple. To borrow the words of Elizabeth Marshall, auditor general of Newfoundland and Labrador, in her 2000 report,

Full accountability requires that Government, its departments, agencies of the Crown and Memorial University of Newfoundland be held accountable to the House of Assembly for their use of public money and the delivery of their programs. The need for true accountability dates back to the time when the democratic system of government was established. A democratic form of government requires as a minimum that government, its departments and agencies of the Crown report annually to the House of Assembly, the same body which provided the monies to fund their programs, on their financial and operational results. (3)

In a basic sense, then, a democratic system requires reporting to the legislature on what results it got for its money. This neatly connects the twin concepts of democracy and accountability. It is also a formulation flexible enough to accommodate multiple interpretations on how to operationalize the pairing of the concepts. What kind of reporting Marshall foresaw was specified in the 2001 report: "the House of Assembly (and the public) should receive information on how each organization plans to spend its funding, how it actually spent the funding provided, and what results the funding provided." (4) This, we will see, is one kind of operationalization.

Procedurally, there can be said to be macro--and micro-levels involved in operationalizing the legislative audit function. At the macro-level, we can speak of an "accountability cycle," which in provincial legislatures would essentially consist of four stages: (5)

1. the requirement for government to present an annual financial report, the public accounts, to the legislature;

2. the requirement for a provincial auditor to audit government's financial statements for accuracy;

3. the requirement for the provincial auditor to report annually to the legislature on the government's financial management and control; and

4. the requirement for a legislative committee, the public accounts committee, to review the public accounts and the auditor's report.

These are requirements that have been easily met over the years by a host of legislatures around the country and in fact by the province of Newfoundland. …

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