Nova Scotia's new auditor general isn't sure yet what topics will be on her agenda - maybe doctor shortages or nursing home shortcomings - but she's not worried about angering politicians.
"I'm used to taking my knocks," Kim Adair-MacPherson tells LighthouseNOW, a week after ending her nearly 11-year run as New Brunswick's auditor general, jumping right into the same role in this province. "That's the job. You do what you feel is right from a professional perspective as a CPA, as well as the legislated authority you've been given by members of the House of Assembly."
The auditor general's mandate in Nova Scotia is as broad as it is in New Brunswick, where Adair-MacPherson developed a reputation for delivering withering reports scrutinizing the province's financials and the management of government resources. She blasted Crown utility New Brunswick Power's heavy debt load, slow ambulance response times, school spending decisions, payments to doctors and millions in government loans to a faltering construction company months before it filed for bankruptcy.
"There are a lot of similarities in terms of mandate," she says. "There's a financial audit and a performance audit. From there, what we do is very open, with so many diverse areas that the province is into in terms of delivering performances and services."
She won't necessarily be tacking the same issues in Nova Scotia as she did in New Brunswick. "That's a decision I'll make in talking to the staff as we work through deciding on a work plan," she says. The primary focus for now is issuing the reports the staff already has underway.
Upcoming reports include an audit of public housing, an examination of whether the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation is appropriately managing inventory, the delivery of rural internet and an annual follow-up on what recommendations have been implemented from past performance audits. Adair-MacPherson's last day on the job in New Brunswick was April 30 and she started her new Nova Scotia role on May 3, with a bit of time off in April to figure out the logistics of changing provinces mid-pandemic. "I wasn't sure how it would go," she says. "I had all of the documents to show the gentleman at the border. I had to have a signed lease, an employment contract and a few other things. He did look at all the details."
More than halfway through two weeks of self-isolation after successfully making her way to her new home in Halifax with her shih tzu, has been busy with virtual staff meetings and familiarizing herself with past reports and areas she might want to examine.
The pandemic looms large. The office has already done a report on the financial impact and is doing some more specific work on spending programs that came about from COVID-19, she says. "Everything is a potential topic. I don't want to indicate yes or no because I need to get up to speed as to what the priority is for the office."
Adair-MacPherson is the first woman to serve as Nova Scotia's auditor general. She took over from Port Hawkesbury native Terry Spicer, who was serving as acting auditor general. The vacancy came up when Sydney native Michael Pickup left to take the same post in British Columbia in July 2020 after six years as Nova Scotia's auditor general.
Pickup got into a tussle in 2017 with then premier Stephen McNeil, who suggested the auditor general overstepped his authority by criticizing the province's doctor shortage. Adair-MacPherson says the topic was fair game and notes she's been subject to similar attacks in New Brunswick. "There's been a few files over the years where the elected officials weren't crazy about the auditor general having access and questioning whether we should be in there," she says. "But you look at your legislation and you have the discussions you need to. Sometimes you make headway and sometimes you don't."
Janet Whitman is a contributing editor and staff reporter with Advocate Media.