The Liberals can dig themselves out of a mess today by reversing a widely condemned decision to deny auditor general John Doyle a second term. But even if they acknowledge the blunder, that should not end this matter.
Liberal MLAs on a legislative committee charged with appointing an auditor general denied Doyle a second term. New Democrats supported Doyle’s re-appointment.
The decision looked petty and partisan, an attempt to punish Doyle for doing his job too well. He has done what an auditor is supposed to do — identify problems and report them publicly. Doyle 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 concluded the public interest was ignored when the government released 70,000 acres of land in this region from tree-farm licences, enriching a private company by some $200 million.
He has highlighted poor management of the legislature’s $63-million budget and taken the government to court to find out whether public funds were spent properly in the B.C. Rail scandal. Undiplomatic sometimes, perhaps. But exactly what the public deserves in an auditor general.
The secretive committee’s decision, as the Times Colonist revealed, was tainted. Liberal MLA Eric Foster, the committee chairman, had been the subject of a critical auditor general’s report, citing concerns about $67,000 spent on office renovations in a building in Vernon owned by the family of his constituency assistant.
The conflict commissioner cleared Foster. But the auditor general also noted Foster failed to provide adequate documentation to support the claim. Foster says he was never told of the issue, although legislature management and the Liberal caucus apparently knew of the auditor general’s written report.
The first step is to reverse the bad decision and re-appoint Doyle. But there is more.
Foster has refused to provide documentation proving prudence in spending public money on the renovations. He should show that no suitable office space was available that didn’t require costly renovations, establish that competitive quotes were obtained and provide receipts. There is no legal barrier to doing so.
MLAs should recognize that their secrecy about their spending must end if they wish to avoid future embarrassments and ethical questions.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong has noted the problem would have been avoided if MLAs were open about their spending. But despite repeated promises to provide full disclosure, MLAs from both parties have opted for secrecy. Bare-bones travel, housing and meal-expense information is now available. There are no details, as promised by both parties. There is no information at all on how MLAs spend millions in constituency allowances.
Finally, Speaker Bill Barisoff should explain why Foster was never told his spending was being questioned by the auditor general. That failure suggests a culture of privilege and poor management, as identified in Doyle’s October audit of legislative spending.
The public has been ill-served. It’s time our elected representatives began behaving better.
© Copyright 2013