by Jay Chalke, QC
Almost a decade ago, the first phase of adult guardianship law reform came into force in B.C. The new guardianship statutes received a lot of attention in the legal community and beyond.
Far less noticed was the coming into force at the same time of a new corporate statute for the organization formerly known as the Public Trustee. The Public Guardian and Trustee Act (PGT Act) contained new, substantive investigatory powers to protect vulnerable British Columbians. But there was another important innovation in that Act – a change not about what but rather about how.
Part 3 of the PGT Act established a new scheme of accountability for the Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT). Stimulated by this statutory change, the PGT has sought to transform from an organization perceived as secretive and inaccessible, to one that invites scrutiny, input and review. The legislation requires the PGT to adopt transparent planning and reporting practices that are among the most stringent of any public body in B.C. Annually, the PGT develops service delivery plans that contain objectives, activities, performance targets and financial forecasts. The plan is subject to the approval of the Attorney General and Treasury Board.
So that’s planning – what about reporting? The PGT must deliver an annual report to the Attorney General that details performance for the previous year. The report is tabled in the Legislature, posted on the PGT’s website, and contains three audited statements: operations, trust administration and performance.
The third audited statement – the performance audit – is the high water mark for transparency. Every year the PGT includes a performance statement on whether the performance targets established some 18 months earlier were met. Did we do what we said we were going to do? That performance report is then audited – a unique obligation in B.C. law.
This requirement of an audited performance statement represented a huge challenge to us – we were unfamiliar with such a high level of scrutiny. It was daunting to know that the PGT’s failures, as well as its successes, would be out there for all to see.
However, it was the perfect opportunity to transform our corporate culture. We sought to live the spirit of the law by providing a lot of information about our strengths and weaknesses as well as a scorecard on our achievements. In 2007/08, for example, our performance report comprised some 50 pages, detailing how we did on 23 performance targets. In case you’re keeping score, we reached 21 of those targets – many targets are related to the legal community.
This openness, while intimidating at first, has boosted our organization’s confidence in the services we deliver, sharpened our thinking about what we seek to achieve on behalf of clients and ensured that we remain focused on our objectives.
Could we be more transparent? Absolutely. That’s where you come in. We need to hear from you about whether our annual reporting helps you serve your clients. The next time you read our annual report, take a minute to give us your honest opinion. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. It is only by hearing from lawyers that we can make our reporting more useful to the legal community.
Jay Chalke, QC, Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia. Web: www.trustee.bc.ca; Email: email@example.com.
This article was published in the June 2009 issue of BarTalk. © 2009 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.