Many local governments across Canada have established independent accountability officer positions, yet little research has been done on their impact and effectiveness. Can we expect the existence of these officers – auditors general, ombudsmen, integrity commissioners, lobbyist registrars, and closed meeting investigators – to improve the quality of Canadian municipal government?
In the newly released IMFG Perspectives Paper, Accountability Officers and Integrity in Canadian Municipal Government, Andrew Sancton argues that municipal accountability officers in Canada can and do address many problems and dilemmas, but they can also create problems of their own.
The paper outlines the functions of various local accountability officers who are required to make rulings about sensitive, sometimes controversial, issues relating to the ethical standards we expect from local elected officials. Sancton draws lessons from a number of recent high-profile integrity commissioner investigations in Toronto, Vaughan, London, and Sarnia.Ultimately, Sancton argues, the most important function of local accountability officers is to provide citizens with the information they need to make intelligent electoral choices. Says Sancton, “In general, these officers have very limited authority other than to make declarations and non-binding recommendations. Nevertheless, the capacity to influence public opinion is very high and should not be underestimated.”