Ontario's new budget watchdog could be in place as soon as the end of the year.
Legislation setting up the province's Financial Accountability Office passed unanimously in the assembly Thursday, and was promptly granted royal assent by Lieutenant-Governor David Onley.
The office, which is modelled after the federal Parliamentary Budget Officer, will have the authority to analyze government and opposition legislation to estimate how much it will cost. Unlike the auditor-general, who examines expenditures that have already happened, the FAO will try to estimate the price of new laws or other programs before the money is spent.
The head of the FAO will be chosen by an all-party committee of MPPs. He or she will report directly to the legislative assembly, making the office independent of the sitting government.
The New Democrats demanded Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberals set up the FAO as a condition for supporting their budget in the spring. On Thursday, all three parties endorsed the plan.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the province would move quickly to start the hiring process. He said he hoped to have the head of the FAO in place by the New Year.
"He or she will play a pivotal role in the development of the things that we do going forward, for every piece of legislation," he said. "It's a forward-looking exercise."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she did not have any candidates in mind for the task of leading the office, but that the legislature should cast a wide net and look for a large pool of applicants.
"I'm sure there are folks that would be very interested in helping Ontarians make sure that dollars are spent wisely and information about how dollars are spent is actually true," she said. "The most important thing is that we advertise widely. That we get a group of candidates that are qualified and that we go through a rigorous interviewing process before someone is chosen."