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EDITORIAL: At least the advice is free

Nova Scotias auditor general says he has zero concern that he strayed into the political realm in criticizing the governments quality of communication. Thats good. But Nova Scotians should be concerned that the premier displayed such thin skin, accusing him of such, rather than being grateful for some good advice from Michael Pickup.

Last week in his report Pickup asserted that the provincial government had done a poor job of communicating its plan to address problems with its health care strategy, including an ongoing concern of many in this province, the shortage of doctors.

Perhaps not surprisingly this observation from the auditor general revealed a sore spot in Premier Stephen McNeil. But amazingly enough, the premier had the temerity to fire back – publicly, mind you – and suggest that wasnt the business of the auditor general.

Nothing like broadcasting your shortcomings, but then politics often is a strange beast.

Specifically, McNeil said he was surprised that Pickup would comment on something he considers public policy when, in the premiers estimation, his job should be about seeing that taxpayers dollars are spent appropriately.

Thats a fine distinction, isnt it? We, the public, certainly do appreciate the observations of the auditor general when he or she can show that our government could be making wiser use of money. But should it not occur to the premier that inadequacies in policy are also a huge drain on the coffers?

To say that his government has done an outstanding job of communicating health care challenges to the public – McNeil might wonder then why the questions continue, and a demand for answers.

Pickup recommended the province bring in a communications plan that would inform people on doctor recruitment goals, and when people should expect services to be available.

As an update, this week the AG said he’s pleased his recommendations on health care gaps are being accepted by the Health Department and the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

The auditors mandate must include critical appraisal of a government’s performance. That’s how the public learns about such “boondoggles” as the mishandling of upgrades for Bluenose II, that the job had been handed to the wrong department and the project was, at last count, well into tens of millions of dollars.

On the federal level, its how Canadians learn about such activity as the sponsorship scandal, which mushroomed out of control on a former Liberal governments watch. That cost them a number of years in the political wilderness, possibly one reason why a government is wary about pronouncements from the AG office.

Its one way the public gets information about how policy – in any department – is costing Nova Scotians more than it should, while not offering them a whole lot of substance in return.

If governments were perfect, they wouldnt need detailed reviews of their performance. But they arent, and for that reason should be grateful for some pointers. Rather than waste energy lashing back, take the information and set your policy on a more positive course. If you dont, assessments from the voters will be a lot less forgiving.

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