Politicians and staff at the B.C. legislature still haven’t fixed all the financial problems that plague the capital building, the province’s auditor general said in a new report Wednesday.
John Doyle offered faint praise for the work done by MLAs and senior officials to address financial irregularities and shoddy bookkeeping, in the wake of his scathing audit last summer into the mismanagement of public funds at the legislative assembly.
“They’re still dragging their knuckles along the ground quite a bit, but at least there’s some movement,” Doyle said Wednesday, after releasing an updated audit.
“The pressure needs to be maintained to make sure they actually bring around the changes they said they’d bring.”
Doyle’s initial audit, released in July, said the finances at the legislature were such a mess he could not conclude whether any taxpayer money was missing or misspent.
Auditors are still unable to make that determination, despite months of work to improve financial management of the legislature’s $70-million annual budget, Doyle said.
“What I’ve seen is activities that, if they are maintained, will result in improvements,” he said.
“I’m not sure that I’ve seen much change in the way of attitude or anything else. But I’m hopeful.”
Legislature clerk Craig James said he has made numerous improvements since Doyle’s report, such as detailed budget submissions, quarterly financial reports, new policies and a reorganization of staff.
The previously secret committee of MLAs overseeing the legislature now also meets in public.
“I’m really pleased,” James said. “We’ve moved mountains around here.”
Doyle’s audit singled out Vernon-Monashee Liberal MLA Eric Foster for $51,000 in questionable improvements to his Vernon constituency office, owned by the family of one of his staff members.
Many of those taxpayer-funded upgrades — such as a new furnace, electrical rewiring, a heat pump, double-paned windows and plumbing — are unusual for MLAs, as was the non-standard lease that appears to favour the landlord, Doyle said.
“I’ve never seen a case where the tenant has actually paid for the furnace and everything else to turn it into an office,” Doyle said.
“That’s a major issue. Basically, what’s happened is you’ve turned a $180,000 building into a quarter-million-dollar building with these upgrades.”
Foster is repaying $67,000 through his constituency office allowance.
“I don’t think too much money was paid,” an unapologetic Foster told reporters. Expenses were approved by the legislative comptroller, and “I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Foster said.
“There’s nothing in this for me personally at all, zero, nothing,” he said.
NDP caucus chairman Shane Simpson said Foster’s expenses are “very questionable” and both Foster and Speaker Bill Barisoff need to answer questions about how public money was spent.
Barisoff refused to speak to reporters Wednesday.
Foster said he finds it “interesting” he was singled out. He was chairman of the Liberal-dominated committee that refused to give Doyle a second term in office late last year.
Doyle has since accepted a job in Australia and leaves B.C. in late May.
The legislature struck a committee Wednesday to find an acting replacement for Doyle until after the May provincial election.
> Les Leyne column: More sloppy records, A10
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