British Columbia’s outgoing Auditor-General John Doyle has made one last push for reform of the way the provincial legislature conducts its business, saying it is time to change the “culture of entitlement” that permeates the decisions made by MLAs about spending on MLAs.
And in a report released Wednesday, Mr. Doyle took aim at several special deals for legislative officers, as well as at one Liberal MLA’s questionable spending on a renovation to his constituency office.
But overall, Mr. Doyle, who will end his six-year term in May, said the Legislative Assembly’s bipartisan management committee has done a poor job of handling its $75-million annual budget to provide for elected officials and their upkeep in Victoria and in their constituencies.
“It is quite clear to me there is a culture of entitlement and an inappropriate inattention to proper management process that has been within the Legislative Assembly for a considerable period of time,” Mr. Doyle told reporters after the release of his report.
Although he acknowledged some recent efforts to open up the traditionally secretive operations of the committee, he said it is still far from fixed.
“They need to get into the real world and discharge their duties,” he said, “and ensure every aspect of what they do is beyond reproach.”
As the government’s watchdog on public spending, Mr. Doyle has chalked up many confrontations with the B.C. Liberal government and is leaving after the government rejected his bid for a second term.
The report, which follows up on a previous critical examination of the financial records of the Legislative Assembly, highlighted two main areas of concern.
Mr. Doyle was critical of a $67,000 payment for renovations to a leased office for Liberal MLA Eric Foster, who chaired the committee that rejected his reappointment.
Mr. Foster is repaying the funds out of his $119,000-per-year budget to run his constituency office, but Mr. Doyle said the case raised significant concerns about spending of public funds without scrutiny.
The audit found that Mr. Foster’s landlord – who is related to his constituency assistant – charged taxpayers for a new furnace and wiring system and other major building upgrades. “These invoices indicate that the Legislative Assembly has reimbursed the landlord for a complete renovation of this building and not just the mere customization of a pre-existing space.”
Mr. Foster, the MLA for Vernon-Monashee, told reporters Wednesday he has nothing to apologize for. He said he wasn’t involved in the financial details. “A third of the [MLAs] here pay more rent than I do, so why I was singled out, I don’t know. I was fresh into this, I had no idea how this worked. And this was the way it was worked out.”
The audit also uncovered a special “retirement allowance program” that had been in place since the 1980s for senior officers of the legislature. The deal was axed a year ago, but not before one last round of tax-free payments totalling $660,000 to six officials. Those “unusual” payments were not publicly disclosed.
John Horgan, the NDP House Leader, said the report reflects badly on the legislature. “That’s the pity here. We’ve had two years where this institution has been dragged through the mud as a result of secrecy and a lack of transparency,” he said. “I’m hopeful the new parliament after the election will have a new group of MLAs who are committed to cleaning this place up, and letting some sunshine in and demonstrating to the public this is a useful place to send people to do the public’s business.”