With fiscal prudence poised to take the spotlight in the B.C. election, a special committee with a Liberal majority has decided to replace the province's outspoken Auditor-General instead of renewing his term this fall, according to the NDP Opposition.
John Doyle, a fierce critic of the many missteps that have dogged B.C. Premier Christy Clark's Liberal government, won't be reappointed, New Democratic caucus chairman Shane Simpson said Sunday.
Mr. Simpson noted that a job posting has appeared in several newspapers, requesting that potential replacements submit their letters of application by Jan. 25.
The five-person special committee tasked with appointing an auditor-general consists of three Liberal politicians (Eric Foster, John Les and Blair Lekstrom) and two New Democrats (Kathy Corrigan and Bruce Ralston).
"This committee looked at whether to reappoint the incumbent, and Mr. Doyle said to me that he was interested in being reappointed," Mr. Simpson said. "The committee needed to be unanimous to reappoint, and that clearly did not happen. The search process has been triggered."
Mr. Doyle's six-year term is slated to end in October, though it has yet to be decided whether he will leave the position earlier, said Mr. Foster, the Liberal chairman of the committee.
He said that it is not uncommon for an auditor-general to serve a six-year term and move on. "The New Democrats can say what they want. A committee struck by the legislature goes and makes a decision based on the information received. The Premier does not give direction to the legislative committee."
Mr. Foster said the committee interviewed Mr. Doyle as part of a rigorous decision-making process that stayed at arm's length from political considerations.
"You make political hay where you can," Mr. Foster said, but he insisted that a proper hiring process was followed. He said that Liberal members kept their minds open and conducted an independent examination. "It doesn't matter who dominates the committee. It has to be a unanimous decision," he said, adding that it would be inappropriate to provide further details.
Given the Premier's general support for financial accountability, "it certainly raises questions that need to be answered about why Mr. Doyle's term isn't being extended. The optics aren't good," said Hamish Telford, head of the political science department at the University of the Fraser Valley. Ms. Clark has previously defended the creation of an auditor-general for B.C. municipalities – a new job that begins this month for Basia Ruta, a former federal civil servant.
Heading into British Columbia's May 14 general election, the NDP, led by Adrian Dix, holds a wide lead in public opinion polls over the Liberals.
"No politician takes kindly to his or her critics," said Norman Ruff, professor emeritus in political science at the University of Victoria. "In this case, this is a Liberal government staring defeat in the face in the upcoming May election, so it seems particularly vengeful. In a way, Mr. Doyle is being rewarded for being too effective."
The job posting points out that the B.C. auditor-general has a staff of nearly 115 people. Mr. Doyle has been a crusader, exploring a diverse number of topics, including issuing a report last July that slammed the financial management of the provincial legislature, said Mr. Simpson, who criticized the Liberals on the special committee for neglecting to recognize the importance of the current Auditor-General's work since October, 2007.
Mr. Doyle has been a thorn in the side of the Liberals on a range of topics over the years, including raising concerns about deferral accounts that have understated expenses at BC Hydro and arguing for better scrutiny of timber supply at the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. He is also trying to shed more light on the circumstances surrounding the payout of $6-million in legal fees for two former Liberal ministerial assistants in the BC Rail breach-of-trust debacle.
"The Liberals are being malicious about this because they don't like that he wrote reports that were highly critical. This is a petty and vindictive decision. Mr. Doyle has an excellent record of accomplishment in his job," Mr. Simpson said. "The NDP caucus wanted Mr. Doyle to be reappointed. Our representatives on the committee hold him in high regard. People who have seen his work will say he has done a very good job as a watchdog, and his efforts have gone a long way to support increased accountability and transparency in government and government agencies."