Published in Lifestyles 55 Plus, March, 2020 Edition
I recently participated in a conference with my fellow Presiding Officers from across Canada. At this conference we held meetings and discussed the many subtle and overt differences in the ways that each provincial legislature is run. I learned so much from my colleagues and I am fascinated by our beautiful country and the many regional differences that make every Legislature so unique. Of great interest to me as Speaker are the Independent Offices that report to each Legislative Assembly. These offices are incredibly important and undertake vast amounts of work however, not many people know about them or the role that they play in our democracy. In Manitoba, these Independent Officers are: the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth, the Ombudsman, and the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. Each role is non partisan and entirely removed from the workings of the government of the day.
The role of the Auditor General is an important one. This is a role that exists in every Legislature and Parliament. “The role of the Auditor General is to examine and report on how well the provincial government accounts for the resources entrusted to it, and how well it manages its operations. This is achieved by conducting objective, fact-based financial statement audits and project audits” (https://www.oag.mb.ca/). The AG audits government departments. This role is essential in keeping our governments transparent and accountable. The most recent Auditor General, Norm Ricard, has recently retired.
The Chief Electoral Officer is in charge of Elections Manitoba. The current Chief Electoral Officer is Ms. Shipra Verma, the first woman to hold this important role. When girls and women see these role models it helps to encourage them to pursue their dreams. Ms. Verma has her portrait hanging on the Trailblazers of the First 100 Years exhibit, a permanent wall exhibit on the second floor of the legislature that celebrates the female firsts we’ve had in our province. The duties of the Chief Electoral Officer include ensuring her office is prepared for all provincial elections including by-elections and referenda and ensuring that all qualified Manitobans are able to vote by:
§ ensuring fairness, impartiality and compliance with election law
§ promoting voting opportunities to all voters
§ educating voters about the electoral process
§ helping political parties, candidates, official agents and chief financial officers comply with election legislation
§ communicating with election officials, political parties, constituency associations, candidates, official agents and chief financial officers
§ publishing election results in the Statement of Votes
The role of the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth is exactly as it sounds- to advocate on behalf of the children and youth of Manitoba. “The Manitoba Advocate is empowered by legislation to support and advise children, youth, and young adults of their rights and the services which should be available to them. MACY also has the responsibilities to conduct child-centred research, investigate the serious injuries and deaths of young people, to issue formal recommendations to improve public services, to monitor and report on compliance regarding the implementation of recommendations made by the Manitoba Advocate.” (https://manitobaadvocate.ca/adult/who-we-are/). The current Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth is Daphne Penrose.
Another Independent Office of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly is the office of the Manitoba Ombudsman. The mission of this office is “to promote and foster openness, transparency, fairness, accountability, and respect for privacy in the design and delivery of public services” (https://www.ombudsman.mb.ca/info/mission-goals-and-values.html). This Independent Officer investigates complaints regarding government administration, government wrongdoing, access to information and privacy, and access to personal health information and privacy. The Manitoba Ombudsman serves a term of 6 years and can only serve one consecutive term. The current Manitoba Ombudsman is Jill Perron.
Finally, the Conflict of Interest Commissioner is the fifth Independent Officer that reports to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. This Independent Officer advises the MLAs regarding their obligations according to The Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Conflict of Interest Act. The current Conflict of Interest Commissioner is Jeffrey Schnoor.
Legislatures across Canada each have their own interesting and unique practices. As the Speaker of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, I am grateful to all of the hardworking men and women that make up each of these Independent Offices and contribute greatly to the very important work done.