A chastened group of MLAs, charged with sloppy bookkeeping at the B.C. legislature, pledged Tuesday to abandon secret meetings and crack open MLA expenses after what critics called a "public spanking" over taxpayer finances.
B.C.'s 85 MLAs will begin posting far more detailed accounts of their expenses every four months, Speaker Bill Barisoff announced.
As well, the MLA committee that is supposed to be watching the $70-million budget of the B.C. legislature - everything from security costs to politician salaries and spending - will begin meeting in public and releasing regular financial reports.
The move comes after a scathing report last week by auditor general John Doyle, who concluded the financial practices of the legislature were such a mess that he couldn't verify totals or determine whether any money was missing or misspent. Doyle adjusted the books by $1.3 billion.
"Clearly, the public spanking worked, and these MLAs are changing their ways," said Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The MLAs, who have admitted to being embarrassed by the report, said Tuesday they accepted all of Doyle's recommendations.
"I believe in many ways the most important and compelling steps in what we are doing is opening this process up, allowing a light to be shone on the process," said NDP caucus chairman Shane Simpson.
"I don't think confidence is generated by what we say, it's by what we do," added Liberal caucus chairman Gordie Hogg.
"I believe if we follow through on the things that we've laid out, that we will be in a position of beginning to generate confidence."
The new MLA expense reports will begin in October, and will apparently drill down into itemized purchases, such as flights, hotel rooms and transportation costs, instead of presenting the annual totals that critics have called useless.
"Anybody wanting to look at that will be able to see receipts," said Barisoff, who added the reports would be retroactive to April.
As well, the legislature will second two outside experts - an official from the auditor general's office, and a Finance Ministry staff member - to improve its financial practices.
A new executive financial officer will be hired to oversee the legislative comptroller, whose bookkeeping was a major focus of Doyle's audit.
The six-person MLA legislature management committee will begin meeting publicly in August, after years of secret sessions and a lack of annual reports or minutes.
The MLAs made the announcement after a three-hour emergency meeting on Tuesday, during which they phoned Doyle in Australia.
Doyle had complained the Speaker and staff delayed acting on his audit recommendations for years. But he told MLAs he was "quite pleased" by the changes Tuesday, Barisoff said.
A remaining sore point appears to be a $240,000 annual consulting contract to former legislature clerk George MacMinn, who was top staffer at the legislature for 50 years before retiring in 2011.
Barisoff said the Liberal majority in the legislature voted to pay MacMinn until September 2013. But the NDP wants him gone.
"I'm still disappointed he's being employed by the legislature," NDP MLA John Horgan said.