Auditor general John Doyle has served British Columbians well for six years. It’s a great mistake to deny him a second term. It’s also a great political blunder by the Liberals, who are responsible for forcing Doyle from the watchdog role.
The decision looks like an attempt to punish Doyle for doing his job too well.
Parties in power rarely like auditors general. Auditors are charged with reviewing the government books and plans, and ensuring people are getting value for their tax dollars. When they find problems, they report them publicly. Governments don’t like that.
Doyle has found problems. He has concluded the province’s financial statements understate the deficit, raised concerns about B.C. Hydro’s practice of deferring billions of dollars in expenses and revealed a lack of resources for environmental assessment.
He has highlighted shoddy practices in managing the legislature’s $63-million budget, embarrassing MLAs from both parties. And he has taken the government to court to find out whether public funds were spent properly in the B.C. Rail scandal, including the $6-million payment to cover the legal fees of Dave Basi and Bobby Virk that led to their guilty pleas and ended the trial.
All of which makes the decision to end Doyle’s tenure look like retribution, and an implicit warning for his successor and other independent officers.
The decision was made, at least nominally, by three Liberal MLAs on a committee charged with overseeing the appointment process. The two New Democrats apparently supported a second term for Doyle.
The dispatching of Doyle follows a pattern of disrespect for independent oversight by officers of the legislature. The government forced the representative for children and youth to go to court to get documents needed to do her job. (The court ordered the government to hand the information over.) It has fought Doyle’s efforts to examine legal spending in the B.C. Rail case. And it appointed Craig James as legislative clerk unilaterally, a decision traditionally based on consensus.
The decision is further tainted, as the Times Colonist revealed Wednesday. Liberal MLA Eric Foster chaired the committee. Last year, he was cited for spending and conflict concerns in an auditor general’s report.
The conflict commissioner cleared Foster. But in a written report, the auditor general also raised concerns about $67,000 spent on office renovations for Foster with no supporting receipts or evidence of competitive bids. Foster says no one told him of the concerns, a further indication that the legislature, and Liberal caucus, fails to take accountability seriously. Independent oversight is needed more than ever now that the legislature meets so rarely, denying MLAs the chance to hold the government to account.
Getting rid of Doyle undermines independent oversight. It is a bad political decision, suggesting the Liberal government is punishing the auditor general for doing his job.
The committee should immediately meet to rescind its decision and postpone the question of Doyle’s re-appointment until after the May election.
© Copyright 2013