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

Seabird completes renovation of family home

Four-unit home ‘a place for families to heal, grow and learn’

PHOTOS: Feelin’ the heat at the 2018 Sasquatch Days

Temperatures peak over 30 C over the weekend but don’t stop rowers

PHOTOS: Shot back in time for Black Powder event

Father’s Day event enjoyed by many at Kilby Historic Site

Summer comes early in the Fraser Valley

Record temperatures in Chilliwack before the season arrives elicit warnings

VIDEO: Agassiz Community Gardens turns 15

Growing is good for personal and community health

B.C. RCMP looking for $70,000 in stolen collector cash

Money, in Canadian and Chinese denominations, goes missing in Chilliwack

Port of Prince Rupert names Shaun Stevenson as new CEO

Stevenson has worked for the port for 21 years as vice president of trade development

Senate officially passes Canada’s marijuana legalization bill

Bill C-45 now moves to royal assent, which is the final step in the legislative process

Mosquitoes out in full force already? Blame the weather

But a B.C. mosquito expert says the heat wave will help keep the pests at bay

Man pleads not guilty in 1987 slayings of B.C. couple

William Talbott of SeaTac was arraigned Tuesday in Snohomish County Superior Court

New GOP plan: Hold kids longer at border – but with parents

Move would ease rules that limit how much time minors can be held with their parents

Without a big data strategy, Canadians at risk of being ‘data cows’

Presentation said artificial intelligence could give Facebook and Amazon even more power

Five B.C. families stuck in Japan as Canada refuses visas for adopted babies

Lawyer points to change in American policy around adoptions from Japan

Most Read