Liberal MLA Eric Foster is clear on one point — he had no idea while sitting in judgment on auditor general John Doyle’s fate that Doyle’s team had rapped his office earlier for not submitting receipts for a constituency-office renovation.
He did know that the auditor general had raised a conflict-of-interest concern. It was over the fact the landlord who did the $67,000 job was related by marriage to one of Foster’s staff members. So Foster reacted appropriately. He asked the conflict-of-interest commissioner for an opinion in March and was cleared in June.
But he said this week he has no knowledge of a related criticism the auditor general had about inadequate documentation for the job.
A $78,000 bill was submitted for payment by the legislature with only a spreadsheet showing $67,000 in expenses. The lesser amount was paid, on orders from Speaker Bill Barisoff, which the audit considered a departure from standard policy.
That issue was spelled out in a report that has apparently been circulating for some time between the auditor general and the legislature.
It was obtained this week by the Times Colonist. When Foster was asked about it, he explicitly denied any knowledge of the accounting matter.
“I haven’t seen that letter. Isn’t that interesting?
“I never saw that letter ... That has never been raised with me ... I’ve never seen that.”
It was a closely held letter. NDP Opposition caucus chairman Shane Simpson said the party became aware at some point that a conflict concern had been raised about the Vernon-Monashee MLA’s office.
A series of concerns in such letters had been sent to the legislature, culminating in the damning audit that was released last summer.
Simpson said some details of the letters were made available to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee. Foster was named to that committee in September, but it has only had one meeting since then and he did not attend.
Simpson said the NDP queried whether Foster should be chairing the auditor-general selection committee in light of the rumoured conflict concern. He said they were assured the matter had been resolved by the conflict-of-interest commissioner.
But that report addresses only the landlord’s relationship, not the accounting for the bill.
Sources say receipts were eventually produced. So it’s not the renovation that’s at issue.
It’s the fact that the only MLA specifically criticized by the auditor general wound up chairing the committee that decided not to offer Doyle a second term.
Foster said in an interview this week: “Everybody that’s in the legislature at one time or another could have an issue with a statutory officer. Would that mean that none of those people could sit on a committee?”
He had no issue in any event, because he knew only about the conflict concern, not the accounting criticisms.
As far as the conflict-of-interest concern being raised, Foster said he had no problem with that.
“His job is to make sure everyone is doing things legally and that’s what he was doing. My job as a member of that committee is to assess the whole situation and make a determination.”
The NDP at this point are still puzzling out Foster’s situation. Simpson said it raises questions about whether Foster could be even-handed in deciding on Doyle’s tenure. But he had no answer to his own question.
The bigger question is whether Doyle is done. Three independent MLAs joined the NDP in saying the ouster should be reconsidered.
That could hinge on the termination date. The legislature and the committee say it is in May, the anniversary of the appointment, while Doyle holds that it is October, the anniversary of when he started work.
With an election in the gap, it’s a crucial point, and it has prompted an argument that is a long way from settled.
Just So You Know: Foster on Wednesday urged an investigation into who leaked the document to this newspaper, saying the law had been broken.
He should be just as concerned about how he was apparently left in the dark by the legislature and some of his colleagues for so long about an adverse finding by the auditor general’s office.