Cummins calls for Speaker to resign from legislature over finance mess

Speaker Bill Barisoff should resign for his role in a financial mess at the legislature, B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins says.

The demand comes after last week's release of a damning auditor general's report, which concluded there were so many errors, mistakes and financial improprieties in the B.C. legislature's finances that auditors were unable to determine if any money was missing or whether reported figures were accurate.

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"Page after page of the auditor general's scathing report on the legislature's failure to maintain the necessary accounting records points the finger for blame squarely at Speaker Barisoff," Cummins said in a statement Monday.

"Not only has he failed to implement recommendations to improve accountability that were made by the auditor general five years ago, he has exhibited a lackadaisical - almost negligent - attitude toward the use or misuse of taxpayers' funds."

Assistant deputy Speaker Dawn Black, an NDP MLA, should take Barisoff's job until the house can reconvene and elect a new Speaker, said Cummins.

Barisoff, a Liberal MLA for Penticton, has been Speaker since 2005. He earned $208,463 last year in salary, expenses and travel costs. As Speaker, he's the elected official in charge of the legislative assembly.

He's also chairman of the all-party committee of MLAs that manages the legislature and presides over staff in the legislative buildings.

Barisoff brushed aside the calls for his ouster Monday. "We're 10 months away from an election and it's the silly season," he said in an interview.

"If I'd done nothing then I'd say that's one thing, but we've been diligently working toward trying to correct what [the auditor general] perceives as not good accounting practices."

Barisoff said he'll release an action plan to address the auditor general's concerns today.

Cummins also faulted Barisoff for not allowing the auditor general examine MLA constituency budgets, which amount to $119,000 each year for B.C.'s 85 MLAs. Barisoff cited legal and privacy restrictions.

But some MLAs, such as Health Minister Mike de Jong, have released linebyline breakdowns of constituency spending.

"It's actually easy to do," de Jong said Monday. The next step will be to scan receipts and let the public view them through his website, he said.

De Jong, who pushed for MLAs to make their expenses public as former house leader, said he can't explain the reluctance by some politicians to do so.

"That trend in favour of transparency is both reasonable and appropriate in my view, but it is also a tide you are not going to beat back," he said.

De Jong, who used to sit on the MLA legislature management committee, said there is room for "dramatic improvement" in how it operates, but the principle of having elected representatives in charge is a good one.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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