Independence of the Commissioner: for Financial Accountability and Ability to Act

This week, I am addressing the Office of the Commissioner’s financial accountability and ability to act as part of my series of blogs relating to the independence of the Commissioner.

As I mention in my 2011-2012 Annual Report, whenever public administration is subjected to across-the-board cuts, the budget of the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner is not spared: the Commissioner’s Office is treated like any other provincial agency without any regard for the unique nature of its mandate or the modest size of its team (only six individuals, including the Commissioner).

Moreover, the Commissioner’s Office is financially dependent on the Office of Francophone Affairs. It may perhaps be a well-kept secret, but basically, the funds allocated to the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner constitute no more than a line item in the budget of the Office of Francophone Affairs.

In addition, the funding provided to the Commissioner’s Office is far from extravagant at slightly less than $900,000 annually. In concrete terms, this means that any reduction in expenses – no matter how small – has a very real impact. This may mean cancelling one or more investigative reports or eliminating a special investigation which the Commissioner’s Office would no longer have the means to undertake.

However, even more worrisome is the fact that the Commissioner’s Office is not protected from the will of a government which, for example, may want to cut off its financial lifeline and undermine its ability to carry out its mandate.

If the Commissioner’s Office were to report to the Legislative Assembly, it could plead its own case during periods of austerity measures and its funding would be protected from ill-timed and partisan decisions. Moreover, the Office would not have to obtain funding through another government agency, which could only facilitate its ability to act and to be accountable for management of public funds.

I will be concluding my series of blogs relating to the independence of the Commissioner next week. Don’t miss the last blog!

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