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Les Leyne: Missteps plague auditor-general issue

How not to hire an auditor general: n The first step is to give the selection job to someone who isn’t up to it. It’s the responsibility of an all-party committee, and anyone chairing one needs a lot of finesse to get anything done.

How not to hire an auditor general: n The first step is to give the selection job to someone who isn’t up to it. It’s the responsibility of an all-party committee, and anyone chairing one needs a lot of finesse to get anything done. This particular one has to arrive at a unanimous decision, which heightens the need for someone savvy in the chair.

Whatever skills Vernon-Monashee Liberal MLA Eric Foster has, manoeuvring through this kind of situation wasn’t one of them. He was also problematic because he was singled out specifically in a constituency expense audit that rapped his bookkeeping and raised a conflict-of-interest issue. That conflict was later dismissed. But was he strictly impartial in deciding the fate of a man who blew a whistle against him? There’s no public record of why or how he became chairman of the outfit, but it set the stage for what followed.

There’s also no clear record of whether he and colleagues got clear instructions from their betters to oust John Doyle. It’s supposed to be an independent committee that makes the appointment recommendation to the legislature. But a lot of things are supposed to be one way and go another.

n Get into a foolish dispute right away about the most basic issues, like, when does the term start and end? Liberals on the committee held to the idea that the effective date was May 28, when the first appointment was passed in the house six years ago. But Doyle insisted it was Oct. 28, when he actually started work. Various ramifications flowed from the exact date. It triggered the re-appointment process, which took place in the pre-election period and could carry right through the election, depending on which date is picked. The Liberals eventually accepted Doyle’s point of view on the issue, but by the time they caved in, they had lost a lot of ground.

It was a simple issue that should have been clear to everyone from the start.

n Develop a grudging, resentful attitude. Take everything the incumbent has done in his first term personally. View every policy critique issued by Doyle as a personal slight against you and your party. Auditors general are hired to be skeptical nags who view everything your government does with a degree of suspicion. Forget all the mundane audits where Doyle found no problems. Concentrate on the critical ones and nurture all those hurt feelings that ensued.

n Ignore the optics and the realities of the situation. Any government that tries to oust a designated watchdog, particularly an outspoken, hard-hitting one, is going to prompt some mistrust as to the motives behind the decision. Just ignore all that. Do what you want to do. And when you’ve done the deed, just clam up. Refuse to explain anything to anybody. Let suspicions fester.

Try not to think about the realities, either. Any Liberal with a grasp of the situation would know that re-election in May is a long-shot possibility. So if they really think Doyle is an obnoxious cowboy who goes overboard too often, their best play would would have been to sign him up for five more years and cheerfully inflict him on an NDP government.

n When it all blows up in your face, come up with an uncomfortable compromise fall-back position that complicates things further. After the Liberals on the committee followed all these guidelines, they were left last month with a mess. They’d effectively dismissed the most important watchdog in B.C. without explaining why, and created a wave of support for Doyle and a corresponding wave of antipathy to their government.

Premier Christy Clark had to barge in and express strong support for the independence of the committee, while undoing everything they had just done. All of a sudden, she discovered a preference for a longer term with no re-appointments. And a need to retrofit Doyle with that by offering him two more years.

Obviously fed up by then, Doyle responded by saying the process was “Mickey Mouse” and the MLAs had no idea what they were doing.

He had been playing another hand in Australia and ended up winning it on Monday, when a state government there signed him up for a term.

Still to come is the actual disengagement from B.C. If it follows form, it will be as clumsy as the rest of the story.

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