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Les Leyne: Dumping of auditor general is shrouded in secrecy

There’s no question some Liberal MLAs are at the heart of the mysterious decision not to reappoint auditor general John Doyle for another term.

There’s no question some Liberal MLAs are at the heart of the mysterious decision not to reappoint auditor general John Doyle for another term.

But which ones? Is it the trio who sit on the actual committee that made the call? Or are they taking direction from above?

The fact that a such a small handful of backbenchers (a source said all three voted against Doyle’s second term) can bring such a big helping of suspicion down on the government is a tribute to the arcane process used to select the watchdog.

On paper, it looks valid. Rather than let the government pick favourites, the job is referred to an all-party committee. The government has an edge in the membership. But it still gives the legislature a say in who gets the job, and for how long.

In real life, however, the process creates a problem. The five MLAs — who have to be unanimous for a decision to reappoint Doyle to take effect — enter the zone of “personnel decisions,” where secrecy is sacrosanct.

The results of their decision indirectly became apparent over the weekend, when the legislature advertised for a new auditor general, despite the incumbent wanting to stay on. There’s no official word on the decision. There’s just the notification that B.C. is in the market for a new person. By obvious inference, Doyle is on the way out.

The upshot is that the single most important watchdog has been dumped, with no explanation to the taxpayers who pick up his salary and rely on his oversight.

You couldn’t find a more opaque way of making a decision if you tried.

All the legitimate questions about why Doyle was refused a second term ran into the wall of secrecy that prevails.

The premier’s office said it had nothing to do with directing the decision. The chair of the committee, Liberal MLA Eric Foster, said “we were not given any marching orders at all” and they made up their own minds. But asked why such a controversial decision was made at such a sensitive time, everybody clammed up.

The NDP supported Doyle’s reappointment. Foster, Blair Lekstrom and John Les make up the Liberal contingent, and are believed to have all put the kibosh on Doyle’s second term.

Why? There are multiple suspected motivations. Some may involve the personal considerations of the individual MLAs. Some may concern the B.C. Liberal government’s need to sail clear of problems until the May election. Doyle’s office has reports scheduled in coming weeks that could be severe — on the justice ministry information system, on carbon neutrality, and on the payout of B.C. Rail legal bills.

Reading the denial of any involvement from the premier’s office, it’s worth keeping it mind that’s not the only power centre that could be concerned about Doyle’s future plans.

But there is no valid public reason to derail his bid for a second term. His job is to scrutinize processes, raise hell where warranted and hold the government to account on how it spends money. He has fulfilled every expectation. The only question about his record to date is some quiet concern in the early going about his sizable travel expenses, billed for multiple trips back to Australia, where he lived and worked for years. But sources say it was in his contract, and was not a factor in the committee deliberations.

Foster said if there’s any frustration about how secret the decision is, then the law should be changed. But all his committee is doing is following the law.

“The NDP, as they do and as oppositions do, will make whatever hay they can make out of any situation and they’re going to try to make this a big political issue.”

He’s right, and so far they’ve been successful at it.

Just So You Know: There’s still confusion about Doyle’s end date. The legislature and committee think it’s May, the anniversary of when he was named. Doyle says it’s October, the anniversary of when he actually started. The committee’s insistence on starting work based on the earlier date was considered the first clue that his second term was up in the air. Even if it proceeds with the plan to find someone new, Doyle is in the job until late May.

Looking at the B.C. Liberals’ re-election chances, when it comes to termination notices it could easily be a race against time.