Les Leyne: Auditor saga could be over at last

 

Four days before the drop-dead date, the B.C. legislature has devised an exit strategy for auditor general John Doyle.

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It won’t make everyone happy. But at least everyone is mutually unhappy.

As it stood before Monday’s developments, Doyle was peeved by the clumsy handling of the whole appointment process as his term came to an end. So he indicated he wanted to stay as long as possible, which would have made things awkward for the B.C. Liberals.

And the Liberals, who grew increasingly unhappy with him and rejected his bid for a second term, were trying to shuffle him out the door as soon as possible.

The situation got so fraught that Premier Christy Clark had to step in and attempt a compromise. She offered to change the law so he could serve two more years.

The result — subject to another round of unexpected drama — will be that Doyle will leave the office on or before May 28. And the legislature will strike another search committee before the session ends Thursday. It will have until mid-April, when the legislature is dissolved, to name a temporary, acting auditor general.

The temp will last until the May 14 election, giving the next government a chance to back up and start the whole process over again.

If you’re keeping score, that’s three separate committees struck over the course of a year to accomplish what could have been a fairly straightforward job — filling a want ad.

Speaker Bill Barisoff announced the compromise solution to the legislature.

“I can inform the House that the auditor general will be vacating his office on or before May 28, 2013.”

Then Finance Minister Mike de Jong introduced a bill designed to ensure that the same sort of botch never happens again. Future appointments will be for a single, non-renewable eight-year term, as opposed to the current six-year term with the option to renew.

That was part of the fix that Clark offered in January. De Jong’s bill also allows for the appointment of a temporary auditor general while the legislature is dissolved.

Although the politicians ran into all sorts of problems when they first tackled the job of how to fill the post last summer, one of the big ones was the operative date.

There was never a clear understanding of which date would prevail, the May date when Doyle was appointed to the post six years ago, or the October date on which he actually started work.

Liberal MLAs who were keen to push him out the door favoured the early date, but Doyle held to the later one.

The first search committee was struck last year with a view to replacing him by May. The decision has to be unanimous, and by January it was clear the Liberals wanted Doyle gone. (The help-wanted ad for a new auditor they placed in newspapers was a major clue.)

Despite the importance of the job as the independent watchdog over all government spending, there was never any explanation of why Doyle was considered unsuitable for a second term. Liberals called it a personnel decision and stayed mum.

A side issue developed when it came to light the Liberal chairman had been the subject of a critical audit earlier, which raised questions about his ability to make the call strictly on its merits.

By that point, there was a fair amount of suspicion about why the Liberals wanted to dump Doyle. So Clark stepped in, offering to change the term to eight years, as above, and suggesting Doyle could serve two more years.

Doyle by that point was thoroughly fed-up, and publicly said the whole process was “Mickey Mouse” and that the MLAs had no idea what they were doing.

It also came to light that he had another iron in the fire — an offer to become auditor general of a state government in Australia. He clinched that office in early February. Things were so toxic here, though, that the arguments continued about his end-date up until Monday.

Just So You Know: The practice is for the auditor general’s office to go silent during campaign time, but Doyle has two more rockets to fire before he leaves town. Audits on the $6-million payout to the corrupt B.C. Rail aides and on the Pacific Carbon Trust are expected.

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