Auditor General Michael Ferguson remembered as ‘passionate fighter for accountability’

OTTAWA — Michael Ferguson, Canada’s auditor general for the past seven years, died of cancer on Saturday at the age of 60.

Ferguson passed away in Ottawa surrounded by his wife, Georgina, and sons, Malcolm and Geoffrey, his office said in a statement.

“Mr. Ferguson will be remembered by all those who had the pleasure of knowing him as a humble, compassionate and thoughtful man,” his office’s statement said.

“He cared deeply about conducting audits that brought value to the public service, always for the greater good of Canadians.”

Ferguson, who was appointed auditor general by then prime minister Stephen Harper in November 2011, gained widespread respect for his hard-hitting reports about government spending.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose own government has often been in Ferguson’s crosshairs, said the New Brunswick native “devoted his life to public service,” both in his home province and across the country.

“We will remember him for his tireless dedication to promote a transparent, open government that is accountable to Canadians,” Trudeau said in a statement.

“His important work over the past seven years … has helped strengthen our democracy and maintain the integrity that Canadians expect from our public institutions.”

Ferguson had been undergoing treatment for cancer since last November, his office said, although a spokeswoman said he had not taken leave from his duties.

“He was still very much involved in the management of the office. This is actually quite sudden,” said Francoise Guyot, the office’s director of external communications.

Craig Scott, a university professor who also serves as an adviser to the auditor general, said he Saturday he was “stunned” by the news, adding he had met with Ferguson in November.

Scott, who teaches international law at Toronto’s York University, said he was notified by Ferguson’s office about a month ago that his cancer had returned in recent weeks.

“We knew he was taking a little step back from work. He was doing a little bit of work at home,” said Scott.

“Suddenly, we heard a few days ago that it had taken a turn for the worse.”

Last spring, Ferguson ripped the federal government for its treatment of Indigenous people, which he described as an “incomprehensible failure.”

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, the party’s critic for Indigenous youth, applauded Ferguson on Twitter, calling him a “passionate fighter for accountability in public life.

“His denunciation of the ‘incomprehensible failure’ of government in relation to First Nation kids wasn’t about numbers — it was a moral challenge,” Angus tweeted on Saturday, adding that he was “deeply saddened” by Ferguson’s death.

Prior to holding the federal post, Ferguson served a variety of roles in the New Brunswick government, including five years as the province’s auditor general.

Federal opposition parties initially refused to endorse him for the job because he did not speak French, but he managed to learn the language over the years.

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