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B.C. Auditor-General sets terms of departure

John Doyle, Auditor-General of British Columbia.

The official job posting for the auditor-general of B.C. lists all the expected requirements for professional credentials, backed by a record of accomplishment in public- or private-sector auditing.

There is also an unwritten requirement, framed by the messy exit of the present officeholder, John Doyle. The successful applicant will be walking into a toxic environment, so political street smarts will be an asset.

The rancour between the Auditor-General and his employer, the B.C. Legislative Assembly, has been brewing for years. It has been marked by roadblocks to financial data, disagreements over the fundamental principles of accounting practice and personal attacks by politicians.

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Mr. Doyle's six-year term ends this year – even the precise date is in dispute – and the bipartisan legislative committee in charge of finding a replacement posted his job after failing to agree to reappoint him for a second term. The B.C. Liberal government, under fire for its clumsy attempt to rid itself of a troublesome watchdog, then backed down and announced Mr. Doyle was welcome to stick around for another two years.

This week, Mr. Doyle, who had fought to stay, confirmed he has found a new job – he is returning to Australia to take up another post as an auditor. Before he leaves, he will sit down with his successor to make sure they know what to expect.

"Whilst I expect tensions to occur, hyperbole is something I have got used to," Mr. Doyle said in an interview Tuesday.

It's just one of those quirks of B.C. politics that he has learned on the job.

"One of the things I haven't seen before was a minister getting very emotional about a report and saying so in public," he said. One of his earliest audits delved into forestry land management, and the forests minister of the day, Pat Bell, called his audit of "unprofessional" and "lacking in integrity." Even when his recommendations have been accepted by the B.C. Liberal government, they have rarely elicited a warm reception.

"What I hadn't seen before was information being delayed in being handed to the auditor. What I hadn't seen before was a lack of discussion around key issues in financial reporting," Mr. Doyle said. "Those things are a bit unusual."

His departure is unusual, too. Mr. Doyle says he is not sure when he'll leave. He intends to complete a long list of reviews – among them, an audit of the $6-million indemnity payout in the BC Rail case – and he wants to sign off on the province's books for the current fiscal year.

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Until he hands over the office keys, Mr. Doyle intends to maintain his fervent oversight of the books.

"When I came here, I said we would report what we found without fear or favour. I think my accomplishment is, I think I have done that."

But for those charged with finding his replacement, he hasn't made the task any easier.

The posting for the auditor-general's job closed on Jan. 25, and the legislature is expected to break by mid-March, if not sooner. That leaves no more than five weeks for the MLAs on the committee to interview candidates and agree upon a new auditor. In the weeks before the next provincial election, the chances of the New Democrats and the Liberals reaching unanimous agreement are slim. So the decision will likely be put off until after the May election.

The job posting calls for "collaborative problem solving" skills. Whoever is on the committee left to do the hiring will likely put considerable emphasis on this point when the interviews are conducted.

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