Earlier this month, auditor general John Doyle picked up the newspaper and saw his job advertised in it, which is usually a bad sign.
On Wednesday, the B.C. Liberals capitulated, gave up their secret plan to oust him and offered him two more years in the post. But there’s still some uncertainty about whether the climbdown represents the end of the story.
The Liberal MLAs responsible for this project released an official version of the story Wednesday that has a hole in it. Maybe that’s why they did it as quietly as possible under the circumstances, posting a report to an obscure corner of a legislature website.
It said the all-party committee was charged with appointing an auditor general and met four times last year. When Doyle notified them he was interested in serving a second term, they interviewed him, then “agreed to hold an open competition.”
Under the rules, that means they rejected him.
The report says that they started advertising for a replacement on Jan. 5 and the ads “prompted considerable public interest.”
That’s apparently code for “started a firestorm of suspicion about our motives to the point where the premier had to step in to cool things down.”
The official version says that in response, they met three times in the space of last week and then agreed to recommend Doyle’s re-appointment for a term ending Oct. 31, 2015.
The big question that’s left unanswered is why they changed their minds.
The obvious answer is that they were embarrassed into doing so. But you won’t find them admitting that.
Committee chairman Liberal MLA Eric Foster said the decision was made behind the wall of confidentiality that surrounds such committees. He wouldn’t even confirm that Premier Christy Clark’s intervention had anything to do with it.
In fact, the two of them have separate stories on that aspect of the controversy.
Clark last week promised a new bill next month that will end the awkward re-appointment process, by extending the term to eight years from six and making it non-renewable.
She expressed the hope that Doyle would be offered two more years in the meantime.
Said the premier: “It’s my hope, and I’ve communicated this to the B.C. Liberal members on the committee, that they will extend an offer to Mr. Doyle to complete his work and stay on for what would be the remaining two years of his term.”
But Foster said Wednesday he didn’t talk to the premier personally about it.
“I have run into the premier two or three times over the last little while but no, we really didn’t discuss it, per se. She just commented one day, ‘Keep up the good work on the committee,’ and that was about it.”
But there’s a much bigger question than how the Liberals’ retreat was organized:
What will Doyle make of it?
He clearly won a good part of the argument, with Wednesday’s news.
But what if he wants all of it? He offered to sign up for six more years, not two.
New Democrats on the committee are bound to secrecy just like the Liberals, so they can’t talk about the decision. But Opposition caucus chair Shane Simpson said he wasn’t assuming the story is over yet.
“At the end of the day, considering what he’s been through and how this exercise has played out, I wouldn’t presume anything,” Simpson said.
He said the Opposition is glad the Liberals reversed themselves. “It’s unfortunate we went through this mess and they had to clean it up … but here we are now, we have an offer on the table and we’ll see what Mr. Doyle says.”
Wednesday’s announcement shows that Doyle won another part of the argument, as well.
There’s been some dispute about the dates in the term. The legislature and the government said May was the operative date, because that’s when he was offered the job. But Doyle said it should be October, because that’s when he actually started.
Liberals seem to have accepted October now. That may give Doyle more time to consider whether to accept two years, or hold out for six.
© Copyright 2013