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A B.C. Rail train in the North Vancouver Rail Yard in 2003. (JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail)
A B.C. Rail train in the North Vancouver Rail Yard in 2003. (JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail)

New Auditor-General Russ Jones to complete B.C. Rail report Add to ...

B.C.’s new auditor-general will make his debut with a politically charged report on the $6-million payout for legal fees of two convicted government aides in the B.C. Rail case.

Russ Jones started on Tuesday in his post as acting auditor-general, taking over from John Doyle after the B.C. Liberal government refused to renew Mr. Doyle’s term.

Mr. Jones expects to finish the review, launched by his predecessor, in late July. The report will look at the provincial government’s use of “special indemnities,” which allow the government to pay the legal costs for politicians and government workers in civil and criminal legal proceedings. At the heart of the probe is the multimillion-dollar payout of public funds to cover the legal fees of two political aides who pleaded guilty to corruption charges in the long-running saga of the government’s sale of the Crown-owned railway.

“It should be interesting,” Mr. Jones said. “Hopefully, it will be useful.”

He began working in the office of the auditor-general in 1980, and has served alongside seven auditors-general. “Each leader brings something different to the office. I am really hoping I’ve learned the best from all of them,” he said.

Mr. Jones is taking over the post on a temporary basis. When legislators return to Victoria for business, they are expected to search for an auditor-general who will be appointed to an eight-year term.

Mr. Doyle has returned to his native Australia after a six-year term marked by fiery clashes with the government as he pushed for greater accountability of public resources. The B.C. Liberal government frequently pushed back against his efforts. At times, it refused to hand over financial data and disagreed over the fundamental principles of accounting practice. Meanwhile, elected officials delivered personal attacks on Mr. Doyle through the media.

In his parting shot before he packed his bags earlier this year, Mr. Doyle challenged B.C. politicians to end what he called a “culture of entitlement” that permeates the decisions made by MLAs about spending on MLAs.

He had hoped to complete the B.C. Rail report himself, and to sign off on the public accounts that are produced in late June. But after a battle even over the timing of his departure, Mr. Doyle left Mr. Jones to finish up his work.

Mr. Jones said his style of communicating will be different than that of the blunt-spoken Mr. Doyle, but he expects it won’t change the way the office conducts its business as the watchdog of B.C. government spending. He hopes to meet with Premier Christy Clark and each of her ministers once the cabinet is named, likely in early June, and he doesn’t plan to water down the demands Mr. Doyle made for greater accountability of public spending.

“I don’t see a great deal of change. It was an excellent direction, we’ll still be reporting the truth and only the truth,” he said in an interview. “My style might be a little less in-your-face, but it will be direct and to the point. And all the reports that John put out did a good job of that.”

Mr. Jones said he offered to take the interim job on the understanding that he will not be in the running for the permanent position.

“I don’t plan on being around for eight more years,” Mr. Jones said. After 33 years in the office, he said he is happy to just stay on long enough to provide a smooth transition for the next B.C. auditor-general.

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