Community

Auditor leak has B.C. Liberals bailing

Experimental launch of auditor for local government has turned into a voyage of the damned for minister Coralee Oakes

VICTORIA – March has been a good month for the B.C. NDP, and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that.

Opposition critics fired a shot amidships at the B.C. Liberal government when they began questioning the lack of progress by the new Auditor General for Local Government.

This experimental vessel was launched in Premier Christy Clark’s leadership campaign, and two years after it set sail, it is listing, taking on water and in danger of sinking.

The original idea was to expand the B.C. Auditor General’s office so it could check the financial performance of local governments too. Business groups were concerned about municipal taxes going up too quickly, with staff growing even as the province grappled with a hiring freeze.

Mayors and councillors began to talk of mutiny over that plan, protesting that their budgets are already required to balance and are subject to annual audits.

But this will be “performance auditing,” Clark insisted, not just making sure the figures add up. It will determine the public is receiving “value for money” on projects like arenas and services like police, by comparing different communities’ results. A new AGLG office opened in Surrey.

The “value for money” promise is on the rocks. The government appointed a quasi-independent board (hello, BC Ferries and TransLink) that hired chartered accountant Basia Ruta, a veteran of the federal Auditor General office who had also served as chief financial officer at Environment Canada and had done local government audits in private practice.

NDP local government critic Selina Robinson started asking why this office has spent $5.2 million and produced only one audit out of a promised 18. Community Minister Coralee Oakes, a former Quesnel councillor in her first cabinet post, allowed that there had been some rough water but there is smooth sailing ahead.

Then came a big leak, in the form of a “work environment review” of the good ship AGLG that was given to the NDP by a seasick crew member.

It described chaos below decks, with “shifting priorities and unclear direction,” as well as “wasted time and work” and “inefficient use of consultant and staff resources.”

Worse, the review noted a human resources monitor had been stationed at the office for most of January to maintain a “respectful workplace for all employees.”

“A peacekeeper,” as NDP leader John Horgan described the grim scene. “This is like we’re in Cyprus.”

Then it was confirmed that when the AGLG board tried to conduct a performance review, Ruta’s response was to hire a lawyer. Ruta seems to be decisive when protecting her job, if not when hiring, running the office or meeting her own work targets.

Whatever goodwill had been restored with local governments over this experiment is likely gone. Municipal staffers have been dealing with new auditor demands as their councils grind away at their own budgets, and now they see signs that what they have contributed may well have been swept overboard.

Oakes remains on deck, eyes fixed on the horizon. An audit of capital procurement in Rossland is finally scheduled to be done by the end of March, she said. Similar reports on Delta and Sechelt are due in April. The latest revision of that schedule is underway, no doubt in another series of long, acrimonious meetings.

Clark addressed the situation in her last question period before the legislature’s spring break this week. She didn’t have a lot to say about the AGLG’s voyage of the damned, mostly familiar rhetoric about “lower taxes, less red tape” and so on.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Pregnant Cariboo firefighter tries to save own house from blaze

Julia Flinton and Anthony Sellars both worked on the 2017 wildfires

Road report for Highway 20

Fog patches and slippery sections; Drive BC

Woman killed in head-on crash near Vanderhoof

RCMP say driver crossed the centre line and hit a loaded fuel tanker truck

Mining company prospecting for gold near Bella Coola

Gold discovered in alpine areas where glaciers are receding

‘Tripod’ delays access to Unist’ot’en camp

Social media rumours of cultural significance quashed, meaning police “exclusion zones” should end.

First Nation supporters march to Horgan’s MLA office

Dozens marched across the Greater Victoria community of Langford to support the Wet’suwet’en people

Truck hauling compressed gas for ‘virtual pipeline’ crashes on B.C. highway

Driver charged and highway closed for nine hours - containers did not rupture

Condo rental bans may be on way out with B.C. empty home tax

Many exemptions to tax, but annual declarations required

B.C. boy, aunt missing for three days

The pair are missing from Kamloops

Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson ‘feeling good’ after knee injury

Pettersson said he wasn’t feeling any pain during Wednesday’s skate

Kentucky canoe outfit borrows photo of Trudeau family to market business

They are in a red canoe, all clad in life jackets, and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and Ella-Grace are waving

Ratfish generates social media buzz on Vancouver Island

Boneless, glowing creature a common bycatch, but it usually stays in deep waters – fish expert

UPDATE: Liberal bows out of byelection after singling out Jagmeet Singh’s race

Karen Wang says she made comments online that referenced Singh’s cultural background

Daredevil changes game plan to jump broken White Rock pier

Brooke Colby tells council daredevil event would help boost waterfront business

Most Read