Accounting for change: three articles on the evolution of the legislative audit function in New Brunswick (1906–2020)

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University of New Brunswick


Legislative auditing has been an important part of public finance in New Brunswick since the colonial era. This research advances our knowledge in this area by studying how legislative audit has evolved from 1906 through to the present. Drawing on archival research and key informant interviews, it uses an articles approach to examine three periods where accountability for the public purse and auditor independence saw significant change. The first article, “Progressive Era Financial Reform in New Brunswick: Abolishing the Auditor General (1906–1918),” examines the government of New Brunswick's adoption of Progressive Era ideas about efficiency. In adopting recommendations from a representative accounting firm of the expanding accounting profession, the government abolished the Office of the Auditor General in 1918. The administration created a new officer called the “comptroller-general” who reported to the executive branch rather than the Legislative Assembly. This was an important loss of parliamentary control of the public purse. The second article, “St. James Street Rules: Accountability for Public Finance in the Absence of an Auditor General (1918–1967),” examines accountability for public finance during the 50 years following the abolition of the Office of the Auditor General. During this period, accountability was heavily controlled by the executive branch of government, with the audit function carried out by for-profit accounting firms, rather than by an auditor general reporting to the Legislative Assembly. Although this certainly advantaged the party in power, the executive found that the scope of its financial activity was circumscribed by a different form of accountability throughout this period, an accountability to the financiers and auditors located on St. James Street in the financial district of Montreal. The third article, “The Usual Unusual: New Brunswick's Approach to Auditor Independence (1967–2020)” deals with the province's consistent use of unusual practices and definitions for auditor general independence in the modern period. New Brunswick was one of the first provinces in Canada to follow Ottawa's example in legislating a modern auditor general model. The provincial government, however, negatively impacted auditor independence in the founding legislation by providing the executive branch with control of appointment and dismissal, despite having received advice to the contrary. In addition, successive governments in New Brunswick have followed an unusual practice of promoting their comptroller to the auditor general's post. In effect, the chief bookkeeper becomes the auditor of the books overnight. Such a move is in clear conflict with the accounting profession's definition of auditor independence. Yet, this usual unusual has occurred four times with little resistance from the political class, the press, and the profession. This dissertation concludes with a discussion of recommendations for legislation and policy, noting how the province can more effectively promote independence of New Brunswick's auditors general.