Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties should be held more ac­count­able: CFIB

The Compass - - OPINION - Vaughn Ham­mond is di­rec­tor of provin­cial af­fairs for the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Business in New­found­land and Labrador

In the past cou­ple of years, there has been an in­creased fo­cus in New­found­land and Labrador on the open­ness of gov­ern­ment and pro­tec­tion of pri­vacy. This fo­cus has largely been aimed at the provin­cial gov­ern­ment, es­pe­cially since the pas­sage of Bill 29.

It is hard to find some­one who does not have an opin­ion about the open­ness, or lack thereof, of the provin­cial gov­ern­ment. Mem­bers of the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Business (CFIB) cer­tainly have con­cerns about the avail­abil­ity of gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion as we noted last June be­fore the panel re­view­ing the provin­cial gov­ern­ment’s ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion leg­is­la­tion.

While our mem­bers feel ac­count­abil­ity within the provin­cial gov­ern­ment is im­por­tant, equally im­por­tant, is ac­count­abil­ity at the mu­nic­i­pal level. Our mem­bers con­stantly ques­tion the value-for-money they re­ceive for their mu­nic­i­pal tax dol­lar, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing they do not get the same ser­vices as a res­i­dent, while pay­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ately more in prop­erty taxes based on a prop­erty of equal value.

Un­like the provin­cial and fed­eral gov- ern­ments, mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments in New­found­land and Labrador do not have an au­di­tor gen­eral or an om­buds­man pro­vid­ing in­de­pen­dent over­sight of op­er­a­tions. But, why are there no ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures in place at the mu­nic­i­pal level?

In 2013, the provin­cial Au­di­tor Gen­eral re­ported that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were not sub­mit­ting fi­nan­cial state­ments in the time re­quired by law. Last month, CFIB re­leased a re­port on mu­nic­i­pal spend­ing based on the fi­nan­cial state­ments of the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. How­ever, we could only re­port on the fi­nan­cial per­for­mance of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties up to 2012 be­cause the 2013 fi­nan­cial state­ments for a few of the 20 se­lected com­mu­ni­ties were un­avail­able at that point.

At the very least, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties should do what­ever it takes to en­sure their fi­nan­cial state­ments are ap­proved on time, and, in the in­ter­est of trans­parency, placed on their re­spec­tive web­sites. An au­di­tor gen­eral should also have the dis­cre­tion to re­view the books of the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties as oc­curs at the provin­cial and fed­eral lev­els.

Fur­ther, small business own­ers con­tact their city and town coun­cils on a host of is­sues re­lated to in­spec­tions, tax­a­tion, or avail­abil­ity of ser­vices. But, more of­ten than not, there is no re­sponse or move­ment on those is­sues. This may re­sult in es­ca­la­tion, but what re­course is avail­able? Small business own­ers can go to the me­dia. Or they can get a lawyer at their own ex­pense. How­ever, if an om­buds­man was avail­able, small business own­ers could ap­proach that of­fice to act on their be­half, so res­o­lu­tions could be reached in a more am­i­ca­ble man­ner and re­la­tion­ships could po­ten­tially be main­tained.

There is no ar­gu­ment that mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments have a huge im­pact on our daily lives, pro­vid­ing the valu­able ser­vices that res­i­dents and busi­nesses need. But they spend hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally (and grow­ing) to pro­vide those ser­vices.

As a so­ci­ety, we de­mand our provin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments to be open, trans­par­ent and ac­count­able. We should de­mand the same of our mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments.

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