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

Community

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

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tigh-Na-Mara general manager Paul Drummond, left, and SOS executive director Susanna Newton right are prepared for a reinvented Tigh-Na-Mara Toy Drive in 2020. COVID-19 will not spoil the community’s annual day of giving and help for local families through the SOS Caring for Community at Christmas program. (Peter McCully photo)
Reinventing Parksville Qualicum Beach’s popular Tigh-Na-Mara Toy Drive

COVID-19 restrictions won’t spoil community’s annual morning of giving

Map of the location of the Telus cell tower that it plans to build in Qualicum Beach. (Town of Qualicum Beach Map)
Qualicum Beach council approves location of Telus communications tower

Plan is to improve cellphone service in the area

The City of Quesnel has painted its functional fire hydrants with different characters. (Quesnel Downtown Association Photo)
Qualicum Beach committee wants fire hydrants painted with sea life designs

Local artists would be invited to help with the work

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Police in Nanaimo are looking for a woman who allegedly threw hot coffee on a McDonald’s employee. (News Bulletin photo)
UPDATE: Nanaimo RCMP still looking for woman who threw coffee at worker after already receiving refund

Police asking for information in investigation that could lead to assault charges

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Most Read