The legislature recently passed the Auditor General for Local Government Act. While I firmly support the work that auditors general do to improve governance and accountability, I must advise you I voted against this deeply flawed legislation.
It is difficult to argue against any office that conducts performance audits. The extraordinary work of the provincial auditor general has made me an ardent believer in the wisdom of that office.
But to succeed, an auditor general must be completely independent. There must be no opportunity for retribution within the term of office. The value of the audit is in its professional honesty. What is discovered must be reported. The recommendations must be free of interference and the threat of it.
But the new municipal auditor general will not be independent. The office has a flawed structure that is open to interference by special interests. And that structure is deliberate.
The premier introduced the idea of a municipal auditor general during the Liberal leadership race. There was no prior discussion with municipalities, no studies or reviews, no thought and no consideration of the respectful relationship that should exist between the province and municipalities.
Corporate complaints about property taxes were the only factor motivating this decision.
Nobody likes their property taxes, and almost all of us would like to see them lowered. But we need a full discussion between all parties before the property tax ratios are radically reformed. The provincial taxpayer shouldn't subsidize the industrial rate. And the residential property owner cannot foot all the bills.
But the province is in a hurry to respond to the corporate complaints (witness the permanent cap on port property taxes) and is looking for a way to justify entering the property tax realm.
Municipalities are required by law to balance their budgets, so the province and industry need to show this is not enough. They need to show the real tax culprit is gross waste and mismanagement. And the appointed structure of the Office of the Local Government Auditor General opens the way.
The cabinet will appoint an audit council and chair after consulting with the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and representatives of business, taxpayers or local government "professionals."
This council, thus shaped by and beholden to government, then recommends who should be auditor general. It also gets to recommend the removal or the suspension of the auditor general. The council may specifically comment on and make recommendations on the goals and objectives of the auditor's service plan. The council can make comments and recommendations on the draft reports.
This is not independence. It is opportunity to manipulate both goals and recommendations. And the issue is not that manipulation could happen. The issue is that manipulation will happen and is written into the legislation. The structure of the Office of the Auditor General for Local Government is flawed from the outset.
There is a proper way to do things in a democracy. Government seems to have forgotten that and it is more than worrisome.