The Corporatization of the Public Service Trumps Public Accountability

A key function of the Legislative Assembly is to exercise control over government action, according to the Legislative Assembly’s website.

While the idea of an assembly of elected representative exercising control over the actions of a premier and his or her cabinet may sound revolutionary, it is how our system of parliamentary democracy is actually supposed to work, and it is important that MLAs and citizens alike are vigilant in ensuring it is functioning well.

The Premier and cabinet are accountable to the Legislative Assembly. This is where the checks and balances on executive power are exercised. It is where the Premier, his cabinet, and their departments are held accountable for the decisions they make, if the Legislature is working effectively. However, more and more of the work carried out by the public service under the supervision of a cabinet minister is being transferred to newly created Crown corporations, government-created private corporations, and to the private sector. As a result, the line of public accountability is severed.

Since the election of 2014, Brian Gallant has corporatized a tremendous amount of work that was done by our public service. This removes ministerial accountability for that work and minimizes or eliminates oversight by the Legislative Assembly and its committees.

The entire Department of Economic Development was eliminated, and replaced by the Crown corporation, called Opportunities New Brunswick. It has a far narrower mandate than the former government department, largely, focussed on making deals with large corporations to bring them to New Brunswick. The creation of economic development policy, for example, is now the exclusive purview of the Premier and cabinet, supported by a small secretariat known as the Jobs Board. No one has the mandate for community economic development, or to support the development of small business, social enterprise and cooperatives.

The Department of Government Services was eliminated, and its functions were given to a new super Crown Corporation, Service New Brunswick. Last week we learned that Extra-Mural nurses will no longer be working in the Horizon or Vitalité health authorities, but will be transferred to a new Crown corporation to be managed by the private sector. We also learned that yet another new Crown corporation will be created to buy and distribute marijuana, rather than asking NB Liquor to carry out this function.

The provincial government has also been busy creating private corporations.

First, there was Vestcor, which took the management of pubilc service pensions away from government, leaving retired civil servants without a voice in the administration and management of their pensions or any recourse to turn to their elected representatives with any concerns they might have about how they are being handled.

Next, the Energy Solutions Corporation was established to take over the development of renewable power generation from NB Power, circumventing the scrutiny of the Energy and

Utilities Board. The Premier has also committed to hand property assessment over to another government-inspired corporate entity.

Finally, we have the government’s decision to remove the management of both the Extra-Mural Program and the provision of food and cleaning services in our hospitals from the public service and give it to privately-run Medavie.

Public accountability is the victim here. Crown Corporations are managed by Boards of Directors. Their budgets are not tabled in the Legislature for consideration where they can be debated, amended, and subjected to a vote. The government-inspired private corporations are obviously not accountable to the Legislature in any way, nor are the private sector managers of public services such as Extra-Mural nursing care, ambulance services, or the provision of food and cleaning services in our hospitals.

Taken together, we are witnessing the weakening of the ability of your elected representatives to exercise control over government actions, as more public services and activities are placed beyond the reach of the Legislative Assembly’s oversight powers. This undermines the role of our provincial parliament to ensure public accountability and flies in the face of good governance.

Why is the Legislative Assembly allowing this to go un-checked? Hyper-partisanship and extreme party discipline has hobbled the effectiveness of our Legislature. That is why we cannot risk another majority government. A minority government would require the Legislature to function as it was intended.

David Coon is the MLA for Fredericton South and the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick.