Maybe 79% is the sweet spot for AG Lapointe’s proposals

It’s natural for Auditor General Jacques Lapointe to believe all his recommendations should be implemented, and implemented promptly. Nova Scotia journalists certainly seem to have accepted that view, but is it necessarily so?

In his latest report, and in the three press statements he released today to promote it, M. Lapointe complains that only 41 percent of his 2010 recommendations have been implemented to his satisfaction, and only 71 to 79 percent of the recommendations in his reports from 2007, 2008, and 2009. (He didn’t add the “to his satisfaction” qualifier, but it’s worth noting, since Premier Darrell Dexter complained that Lapointe sometimes refuses to sign off on recommendations that have been largely carried out, but for which a few small details are not yet in place.)

LapointeLong gone are the days when auditors general confined their attention to ensuring columns of figures add up correctly, and accurately reflect cheques drawn and receipts submitted. Nowadays, the Jacques Lapointes of the world concern themselves with “value audits” that go far beyond objective arithmetic, venturing into subjective, sometimes sweeping, judgments about public policy. Given the range and scope of his reviews — Children’s Services one day, Transportation Department mechanical shops the next — M. Lapointe of necessity spends a good deal of time reviewing matters about which he and his staff are far from expert.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s always good to have independent eyes review important policy matters. It’s also good to remember that elected Members of the Legislature hold the ultimate responsibility for policy. Reasonable and responsible people can and do disagree about such matters. Sadly for him, Lapointe’s is not the last word in a parliamentary democracy.

Finally, the ship of state is more ocean liner than jet ski. Course alterations take time. There should be no surprise that implementation rates are higher for reports submitted in 2007 than in 2010.

I’d like to hear more specifics about which matters remain undone, and the extent to which they are unfinished. The government and its bureaucrats may prove to be dragging their feet. It could also be that some Lapointe recommendations work better in press releases than in practice. Maybe 79 percent isn’t such a bad target.