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MLA Eric Foster demands probe into audit leak

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong says the public should have access to details of how MLAs spend public money. He is seen in a September 2012 file photo.

CHAD HIPOLITO/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Faced with questions about an embarrassing audit of his constituency spending, B.C. Liberal MLA Eric Foster is demanding an investigation into how the information came to light.

Mr. Foster said Wednesday he was not aware that B.C. Auditor-General John Doyle had raised concerns about inadequate financial controls over a $78,000 renovation carried out to his constituency office. Mr. Foster happens to chair the legislature committee that recently refused to extend Mr. Doyle's appointment as auditor.

But the MLA for Vernon-Monashee insisted the money was well spent, and said he will ask the Speaker of the House to probe how details of the auditor's concerns were obtained by the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper this week.

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He declined to release a copy of the audit, which was handled by the secretive Legislative Assembly Management Committee.

"It's privileged information, it's not to be published. Whoever leaked it to the Times Colonist was breaking the law," Mr. Foster told reporters.

But Finance Minister Mike de Jong offered his caucus colleague little sympathy, saying the public should have access to details of how MLAs spend public money.

"I have long spoken for the need for more transparency and increased public accountability for the dollars that are spent by MLAs and cabinet ministers," Mr. de Jong said. "It has taken longer than I would have liked to see reform occur, but it is happening now."

Recent changes spearheaded by Mr. de Jong resulted in the release of MLAs' travel expenses last fall. However, the limited moves won't shed light on the money spent on fixing up Mr. Foster's community office. Mr. de Jong would not commit to releasing those details, although he repeated that the public is better served when that kind of information is disclosed.

"That is the direction the legislature is headed in. When the public is able to go to a website, and easily see the monies that are being spent in ministers' offices and by the MLAs, much of the mystery disappears."

Mr. Foster heads an all-party legislative committee that has been handling the appointment of the next auditor-general. Mr. Doyle, whose damning reports on government finances have earned the ire of the B.C. Liberal government, sought to be reappointed when his term expires. Despite support from the opposition New Democratic Party, the committee has decided to seek a replacement.

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The committee operates in camera and Mr. Foster would not comment on how he voted or why.

He said he only learned of Mr. Doyle's concerns about the office renovation this week. He defended the cost of the renovation, which was carried out in 2009 in a leased office space. Mr. Foster said he did not get involved in the details, leaving it to the legislature's comptroller general to deal with the contractor. "It was well spent. We have an office, it was all accounted for. That's a non-issue."

He added that the money was paid out of his MLA's allowance, and did not cost additional public money. "We get an allotment to run our offices – whether you buy advertising with it, spend it on salaries of spend it on your building. Those renovations were paid for out of the allotment that every MLA gets."

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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