B.C. Auditor General John Doyle’s damning indictment of legislative financial accounting goes before the legislature’s all-party management committee today.
Doyle’s report, released last week, found that the financial records show substantial irregularities and poor governance. He said the records are in such a mess that he couldn’t tell whether money was missing or misappropriated.
MLA Kevin Krueger, who sat on the legislative finance committee when he served as Liberal caucus whip, said he has seen a lot of improvement in managing finances in his 17 years in Victoria. Krueger said he was surprised by Doyle’s findings considering progress on legislative accounting.
He recalled, years ago, one MLA who didn’t add up his travel expenses for three years, then submitted them all at once.
“They’ve really tightened up a lot of things since then.”
In response to the auditor general’s report, MLA Bill Barisoff, speaker of the house, said work was already underway to clean house. He, too, said he was caught off guard by the audit results because of those earlier efforts.
His comments echoed those of Craig James, clerk of the legislative assembly, who cited a series of financial controls adopted on his direction since he took office last September.
Doyle acknowledged that work has been done but added that substantial irregularities remain.
“As MLAs, we recognized the government needed a more transparent system,” said MLA Terry Lake, reached in Barriere. “I thought the committee was working on it.”
A former Kamloops mayor, Lake said he was accustomed to being open and transparent with financial reporting when he got to Victoria.
“I think the public deserves to know where we’re spending our money, for sure.”
B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins called for Barisoff’s resignation Monday, claiming the speaker of the legislative assembly failed to safeguard the public purse. He said Barisoff should resign to restore public confidence in government spending.
Cummins said it was troubling that the audit did not include MLAs’ constituency allowances, which are fixed at $119,000 annually.
“Especially troubling is the disclosure that Speaker Barisoff specifically requested the auditor general to not examine the $119,000 annual constituency office allowance provided to each MLA.”
The annual total would amount to more than $10 million, a sum certainly deserving more scrutiny, Cummins said. He suggested NDP MLA Dawn Black, currently serving as assistant deputy speaker, should be appointed interim speaker until the legislature reconvenes. At that point, MLAs could decide whether to vote in a new speaker.
Krueger said “that is classic John Cummins — lashing out without knowing what he was talking about.”
John Van Dongen, the sole B.C. Conservative MLA, who crossed the floor from the Liberals in March, pays his constituency assistant what he pays three, Krueger said.
“He (Cummins) should look at lot closer to home if he’s going to criticize.”
Constituency allowances were not part of the audit because that would have entailed publicizing the salaries of constituency assistants and other staff, Lake said. That was felt to be too private and the matter would have to be reviewed by the privacy commissioner if it were to be included in an audit.
“Most MLAs are very happy for the public to see how it is spent.”