The Speaker of the legislature is rejecting calls from the B.C. Conservatives for his resignation over an Auditor-General’s report that suggests the assembly’s finances suffer from “significant deficiences” in basic management – but Bill Barisoff may be leaving politics anyway.
The Speaker since 2005 declined to confirm Monday he will seek another term as the MLA for Penticton, suggesting he needed to first discuss the matter with supporters in the Okanagan.
“I’m going to be making my announcement before the end of the month. This has been planned for some time. It has no bearing on what’s happened in the last three days or four days,” he said in an interview. “I must tell my executive first and the party what’s happening. I won’t give you any answer either way.”
On Tuesday, the bipartisan legislature management committee of MLAs, including Mr. Barisoff, will meet to consider Auditor-General John Doyle’s scathing report released last week. Mr. Barisoff is committee chair. “What British Columbians can expect is we will lay out a process of what has been done and where we’re going to address the concerns of the Auditor-General,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Barisoff said he is rejecting the demands of B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins that he step down now and cede his position to NDP MLA Dawn Black, the assistant deputy Speaker.
“We’re 10 months away from an election and it’s part of what we call the silly season where I think he’s looking to create whatever political brownie points, or whatever, he thinks he can create by doing this. By and large I am certainly not happy with the report that came from the Auditor-General, but we have been working diligently to try and address the concerns,” he said.
“Not only do I want the chance to resolve it, we are resolving it. It’s a matter that’s been ongoing. It’s not because of the report.”
Mr. Barisoff noted that former auditor-general Arn van Iersel has been hired to help deal with the problems, as well as consultants from Deloitte Canada.
“If we had done nothing, I would be concerned,” he said. “This isn’t a matter of money gone awry. It’s simply a matter of procedural things and how it’s accounted for.“
Mr. Cummins said Mr. Barisoff is ultimately responsible for the management of the legislature, and is now being prompted to work on financing issues “because he is in a panic mode.”
Last week, Mr. Doyle concluded that for the first time in his five years as Auditor-General, he was dealing with financial records so poor he was unable to form an opinion. He pointed to various failings in the management of the legislature’s $63-million annual budget, including the sloppy handling of MLA travel expenses and unreconciled bank accounts. He did not allege missing funds, fraud or other illegalities, but rather said the budget was not being effectively managed.
Mr. Doyle said that had the legislature acted on a 2007 audit of his, he expected last week’s audit would have been much more positive. “As it stands, the Legislative Assembly is falling well short of the basic financial management practices established for the rest of government,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Cummins said Mr. Barisoff, who owned a trucking firm before first being elected to the legislature in 1996, is “totally totally negligent in his duties.”
While Mr. Cummins acknowledged the legislature is managed by a committee of MLAs from both parties, he said Mr. Barisoff has to take full responsibility.
“He’s the lead guy. He’s the guy in charge,” he said. “He should step aside and somebody with a little bit more understanding of the importance of addressing these issues should be put in place and put in charge.”
Mr. Barisoff agreed on part of that point. “A high responsibility goes to me,” he said. “A lot of the day-to-day operations are certainly left a lot of times in the hands of the Speaker. I take full responsibility.”
New Democrat John Horgan, a member of the committee, said last week that all members have to share in responsibility for the situation. On Monday, a spokesman for Mr. Horgan said he would have more to say about the situation at Tuesday’s meeting.