The specific issue that Speaker Bill Barisoff chose to turn into a crisis on Tuesday revolves around a person’s name.
It’s on the distribution list for auditor general John Doyle’s sizzling report on carbon offsets. Doyle routinely shares drafts of audits with various parties.
But when he forwarded a draft to one government office, sources say there was another name in the distribution traffic that cropped up.
It was Rob Fleming, the Opposition New Democrats’ environment critic. There is at least one Opposition MLA who would be entitled to view a draft audit. That would be the chairman of the public accounts committee.
But Fleming isn’t chairman. So why Fleming — a persistent critic of the offsets project — got a copy sparked suspicion. Fleming cited confidentiality Tuesday and declined to comment.
Protocol holds that the auditor general works for the legislature, so the Speaker gets the first look at his reports. Improper sharing of reports could be considered anything from a transgression to a cardinal sin.
Barisoff, not known for his grasp of the optics, chose the sin interpretation and took the unprecedented step Tuesday of refusing to make Doyle’s report public.
“Concerns have been raised in relation to the premature disclosure of the auditor general’s carbon report,” Barisoff said in a statement.
“Since a breach of parliament may have occurred, the report will not be distributed until the Speaker has concluded his discussions with the auditor general.”
A breach of parliamentary privilege is a very big deal, particularly when it’s the Speaker raising the issue.
Doyle dismissed the concern, saying he shares drafts with various parties, including “potentially interested” MLAs, ahead of final release.
So the Speaker is accusing Doyle of breaching parliamentary privilege, while Doyle says he routinely shares and it’s nothing to worry about.
Two stories in the background fuel this latest argument between Doyle and the legislature.
The first is the poisonous relationship between the two offices. It developed over the course of Doyle’s audit of the legislature’s shoddy financial controls. It intensified over the clumsy handling of his desire to be reappointed. The two offices despise each other.
Second is the carbon report itself.
The B.C. Liberals set out five years ago to devise a continent-leading carbon offset program, which involves public bodies becoming carbon neutral by trading credits with businesses.
Skepticism about how it works has intensified over the years. It prompted Doyle to take a searching look. By all accounts, his suppressed audit is highly critical of the program.
Documents leaked to The Canadian Press this week show people involved in the offset program have been fighting Doyle every step of the way.
An independent expert retained by Doyle quit because he didn’t like the direction the report was taking. Another expert involved in the program wrote to Attorney General Shirley Bond complaining about Doyle’s approach.
Still another wrote a long complaint to Premier Christy Clark and some cabinet ministers about Doyle’s failings and his determination to “create controversy where none exists.”
They’ve even complained to the Institute of Chartered Accountants about how Doyle handled the audit.
There are two camps. Critics of the carbon offset program think Doyle has exposed its flaws. They think the objections are a concerted attack by vested interests to protect their turf.
Defenders of the carbon offsets program, including the government, think Doyle’s “arrogant,” alienating approach has finally gone too far. So they’re calling him out, first on the premature disclosure issue, with likely more to come.
It would be helpful to taxpayers to actually see the report. But Barisoff plans to sit on it pending “discussions” with the auditor general. Given their history, any discussions will go nowhere.
If Barisoff wants to magnify the already-intense interest and controversy over this topic, he’s chosen the perfect way to do it.