Municipalities should be held more accountable: CFIB
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.