Auditor General

Our outrage over a dwindling sum of abused money is damaging Canadians’ perceptions of politicians and public servants

Justice John Gomery’s first report provides ample opportunity for those who wish to add their voices to the howls of outrage over “the biggest scandal in Canadian history” (according to Opposition leader Stephen Harper).

However, Judge Gomery offers another service that should cause blood to flow, not just into our throats, but also to our heads, for the complete picture he paints now allows us — for the first time — to give more precise measure to the scandal that has been seizing the political imagination for almost two years.

That there was something amiss in the communications-contracting operation of Public Works was known for some time. An internal audit in 1996 was followed by another in 2000 that discovered continued “administrative irregularities” in the tendering and payment of sponsorship programs.

Alerting her fine nose for unearthing dirt, the audit drew the attention of Auditor General Sheila Fraser who turned her flinty gaze to the department in her 2003 report. Obviously not garnering the attention she was seeking — and notwithstanding the fact that the RCMP had already been called in to investigate criminal wrongdoing in the case — Ms. Fraser chose to report on the scandal in more detail once again in February 2004, this time adding her editorial “outrage” about the breaking of “every rule in the book.” This seemed to have the desired effect and the political agenda has been cast in the shadow of Adscam ever since.

When Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General, speaks, the media pays attention.

Her reports and quotable press conferences feed the maw of newspaper headlines and form the top items of our national news.

And the electorate listens, often responding with outrage at her tales of excess, misspending and hints of malfeasance in the highest reaches of the Federal Government.

Her moral authority flows from the independence of her office and the inherent credibility of her profession; the foundation of which is based on accuracy and objectivity. What she investigates, what she reports and what she says has a major and direct impact on the public interest and the way we view our relationship to government, the civil service and elected leaders.

Recently, on the weekly “At Issue” panel on CBC News, I voiced a (highly unpopular and politically incorrect) concern that the audit process was running amok and Sheila Fraser was behaving more like the Leader of the Official Opposition than the accountant that she is. In short – and in my defense, I made this statement this not be inflammatory or to be pilloried by my fellow panelists but out of a life long and abiding concern about the public interest and the citizen’s deteriorating relationship with government – I felt that the matters she chose to investigate, and the moral tone of her reports and remarks, were undermining the important role her office is supposed to perform and ultimately, the public interest for which she is entrusted.