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Auditor says job still not posted

Gave 11 months notice of departure

Carol Bellringer

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Carol Bellringer

Manitoba's auditor general says she's disappointed her job has not been advertised despite the fact she gave MLAs 11 months notice she would depart on March 31.

Carol Bellringer has criticized legislators in the past for failing to promptly replace two other watchdogs -- the chief electoral officer and provincial ombudsman.

Bellringer gave MLAs nearly a year's advance warning of her retirement so the same thing wouldn't happen to her office -- which audits the province's books and undertakes investigations to ensure government departments and agencies are complying with their mandates.

"I don't know what's holding things up. It's obviously not a priority for somebody," Bellringer said Monday.

The offices of the auditor general, children's advocate, ombudsman and chief electoral officer are independent of government, reporting directly to the Manitoba legislative assembly. In Manitoba, the appointment of the heads of these organizations has traditionally been done on a consensus basis by a bipartisan committee of the legislature.

Last summer, the legislative affairs committee named Shipra Verma as chief electoral officer more than three years after the retirement of her predecessor, Richard Balasko. Verma, formerly the deputy chief electoral officer, had been doing the job in an acting capacity since Balasko's retirement in April 2010, overseeing the 2011 general election.

The ombudsman's job is still vacant two years after Irene Hamilton left for a job in the provincial Justice Department. Mel Holley, the office's manager of investigations, assumed the position of acting ombudsman in January 2012.

Bellringer and others have raised the concern placing people in acting roles for any length of time puts them in an awkward position -- especially if they wish to apply for the top job.

Bellringer said she has a capable deputy in Norm Ricard, who can step in when she leaves, but that's not the point.

Legislative committees do important work and it's important they be efficient, she said.

In an interview Monday, she expressed surprise she would be nearly done her term without a successor close to taking over.

"I seriously did not think we'd have this conversation. I really did not see this coming," she said.

Bellringer, who was appointed in 2006, said she doesn't know whether it's inertia or politics that's prevented MLAs from filling her position or naming a new ombudsman.

"It's really important for the independent offices to not be used as political ammunition," she said. "Are we being used politically?"

She said it's a "simple thing" to initiate an appointment process. "If they (MLAs) can't get that done, then how do I have confidence that... more complex (government tasks) are going to get done?" she said.

Progressive Conservative caucus whip Ralph Eichler (Lakeside) agreed Monday legislators should be much closer to naming a successor to Bellringer than they are now, particularly given the notice she gave them.

"We're not to the stage where we should be," he said.

However, Eichler laid the blame on the government side. He said the onus was on the NDP, whose members dominate the committee, to get the ball rolling sooner.

Cabinet spokeswoman Sally Housser said the government has been "working closely with opposition parties to put a hiring process in place" for both the ombudsman and auditor general positions.

She said a non-partisan expert advisory panel has been named to assist in the process. "Our understanding is that this panel has held numerous discussions and will be posting advertisements in the very near future," Housser said.

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