A commentary by Dermod Travis, executive director of IntegrityBC.
"It’s your fault.” “No it’s not, it’s yours.” “Stop bickering, why don’t we all just agree to blame it on the Speaker?” “We can’t do that.” “Why not? It makes perfect sense and it gets us all off the hook at the same time.”
Hate to break up the blame game, but no matter how much a few MLAs want to lay it at someone else’s doorstep, the fault belongs entirely to the members of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC).
Interesting dynamics among some of its members. Two key ones are Sonia Furstenau and Mary Polak.
One could argue that Polak did more to bring about a new government in B.C. than the Speaker, Darryl Plecas, ever did when he opted to become Speaker to help keep the legislature working.
Had it not been for Polak’s mishandling of the Cobble Hill Holdings’ quarry at Shawnigan Lake, when she was environment minister, the B.C. Liberal Party might still be in power.
One of the individuals squaring off against the ministry back then was Furstenau, now a Green Party MLA, and the quarry is often cited as one of the reasons why the Greens opted to support the NDP.
Attacking Plecas directly — or by proxy through his chief of staff, Alan Mullen — does seem to be the in-thing with a few members of LAMC, versus rolling up their sleeves and helping to fix the mess.
A mess that has been “the orders of the day” at the legislature started long before May 2013, when Plecas was first elected as an MLA, as most everyone at the legislature knows well.
You come away with an eerie sense of déjà vu reading the reports. One of the first early warnings came in 2000, nearly two decades ago.
In 2000, B.C.’s then auditor general, George L. Morfitt, in his Financial Administration of Vote 1 report — nothing like a catchy title — recommended that “LAMC provide an annual public report on the reasons for variances between budgeted and actual amounts.”
In his 2007 Special Audit Report to the Speaker, the then-interim auditor general, Arn Van Iersel, “identified a number of areas for improvement such as general accounting, internal controls, data management, and public reporting.”
He also recommended that business continuity and disaster recovery plans need to be completed and tested. Still a few kinks in that area.
By 2012, an exasperated auditor general John Doyle informed LAMC that “he [had] anticipated that the Legislative Assembly would meet the basic financial management practices and accounting standards requirements established for the rest of government. However, the Legislative Assembly is clearly falling well short of these basic expectations.”
Doyle noted that he had not “been provided the opportunity to discuss any aspect of this audit with LAMC, as is typical practice, especially given the pervasive and significant nature of the issues identified.”
Yet again, the auditor general noted: “the Legislative Assembly does not produce financial statements (despite being recommended to do so in the 2007 report).”
In 2013, the report on those infamous retirement top-ups, plus more on that dastardly paperwork thing.
The draft of that report was likely in the hands of then-Speaker Bill Barisoff weeks before its release, as is standard practice. It’s an important yard stick to judge the actions of individuals.
Remember that South African “safari” former speaker Linda Reid and her husband took in 2013, while attending the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference, and the resulting “knock-it-off” that echoed across B.C.?
Here’s how the Times Colonist put it in an editorial in March 2014: “Stop talking about transparency and accountability, and walk the talk. Do it now, not at some fuzzy future date following a series of namby-pamby committee meetings and policy-planning sessions.”
The two frequent flyers at the legislature held their spending to a combined $34,572 in the following fiscal year, before the pair’s tab jumped to $99,685 the next.
Slice it any way you want, but at the end of the day their record speaks for itself, LAMC failed to step up time and again and it’s exactly where the buck stops today.
No one is coming out of this one without a few bruises and nicks. Want to speed things along? Get over your petty intra and inter-party spats and get on with it.