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Clark plans to act on B.C. auditor-general’s employment terms

B.C. Premier Christy Clark holds her first news conference of the year in Vancouver on Jan. 16, 2013.

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

A B.C. government committee is weighing a two-year extension to the contract of the current auditor-general after the Premier promised to change the job's terms.

In her first news conference of 2013, Premier Christy Clark vowed to take politics out of the "profoundly flawed" hiring process by introducing legislation to extend the auditor's term from six to eight years and limit it to a single term.

As a result, Ms. Clark told reporters she hoped the committee members would agree to allow John Doyle to serve two more years and that he would accept such an offer.

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"Although that's my hope, that decision would require the unanimous consent of the committee," the Premier said.

"I do not believe it's the right process when we have independent officers of the legislature like this one who are in a natural conflict with the government to every six years be coming and perhaps asking to have their jobs back," Ms. Clark said.

She raised the idea in an apparent bid to defuse the controversy over Mr. Doyle's fate, which threatened to become a nuisance ahead of the May provincial election. B.C. Liberal efforts to win a fourth straight term are being challenged by the NDP, which is running far ahead of the governing party in the polls.

This month, the NDP opposition disclosed that the Liberal majority on the committee had voted against rehiring Mr. Doyle, a fierce critic of spending by the Liberal government. Mr. Doyle's six-year term was slated to end in October. Mr. Doyle had been interviewed by the hiring committee.

Indeed, newspapers in B.C. ran a job posting for potential replacements, seeking their letters of application by Jan. 25.

Within hours of Ms. Clark's comments, the chair of the five-member committee in charge of hiring the auditor said it was considering the proposal.

"I think the idea of changing the terms of the office and having a one-term appointment is probably a great way to go," Liberal MLA Eric Foster told reporters in Vancouver after a meeting of the group. "The Premier is suggesting we change the way we do business so we don't get here again and I think that's a great idea."

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He declined to be specific about talks behind closed doors, but said the committee will meet again Friday to discuss the issue and that he might have more to say then.

Ms. Clark said her proposed revisions are based on an assessment of hiring practices for such positions in other provinces and in the federal government. As for B.C.? "The process itself is profoundly flawed," she said.

Ms. Clark said her planned legislation to be introduced after the House resumes sitting next month would give the auditor-general "appropriate" time to pursue matters of interest "without worrying about whether or not they will be rehired and without perceptions that election-year concerns are playing a role."

Kathy Corrigan and Bruce Ralston, the NDP members of the committee, declined comment on its private talks. However, Mr. Ralston said Ms. Clark's proposals seemed a little improvised. "It is a heck of a way to run government when you make policy about an important announcement like this on the fly," he said.

NDP caucus chair Shane Simpson, who supports Mr. Doyle's reappointment, said the "positive" development on Wednesday was that the committee did not rule out Mr. Doyle continuing in his job. He said the NDP would need to see the specific legislation when the B.C. House resumes sitting next month before being able to say whether they would support the Premier's proposal.

"It does seem like it's a damage-control issue in many ways of [Ms. Clark] trying to clean up a mess they created," he said.

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