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

Okanagan-Shuswap Weather: Most long-weekend rain has already fallen

A mix of sun and cloud is expected for the last two days of the the Victoria Day weekend.

Update: Mother dead, youth in critical condition after carbon monoxide poisoning at Sandy Point Campground

The woman was found unresponsive insider her tent and the youth was taken via air ambulance to hospital

Penticton Indian Band councillor trying for federal seat

Joan Phillip acclaimed as NDP candidate for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola

Former Greyhound bus drivers gather in the Okanagan for one last hurrah

Bash kicks off Friday in Penticton and runs until Sunday

Some South Okanagan students are $1,000 richer

Million Dollar Bursary Program offers bursaries each year to Interior Savings’ young members

UPDATE: B.C. pilot killed in Honduras plane crash

The crash happened in the Roatan Islands area, according to officials

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Okanagan tattoo fundraiser draws tons of support

Lineup around the block in Vernon for start of Five Fathoms Tattoo event for Children’s Hospital

Carbon dioxide at highest levels for over 2.5 million years, expert warns of 100 years of disruption

CO2 levels rising rapidly, now higher than at any point in humanity’s history

Fundraising campaign for church shooting victim exceeds goal

A seperate campaign for the man killed in the April 14 shooting is nearing $25,000 raised.

Crews responding to car crash in West Kelowna

A collision has been reported at the intersection of Carrington Road and Butt Road.

Court decision prompts regional district to throw flood mitigation back at province

Public safety minister maintains Newsome Creek concerns in hands of local government

Woodworth purchased Summerland rink, created butcher operation

Giant’s Head Rink had been one of three facilities in Summerland

Get those flowers competition ready

Gardeners will come together June 29, for the 22nd Juried Flower Show

Most Read