Auditor general John Doyle must have stifled choking noises when Speaker Bill Barisoff read him the latest legislature news release.
It said the legislative assembly management committee is taking "immediate action" in response to Doyle's audit.
Considering that Doyle has been on their case through five years of foot dragging and stalling, "immediate" isn't the first word to come to mind.
There are glaciers retreating faster than the management acted on the dismal state of the legislature's accounting practices.
But the thoroughness of the capitulation makes up for the slowness. After downplaying Doyle's dismaying findings last week, the powers-that-be huddled for three hours on Tuesday. They came out of that meeting with a whole new approach to accountability and openness.
Wonder of wonders, it looks the legislature is committed to catching up to the 21st century.
It turns out that financial accounting wasn't the only problem that's been festering for a while.
An operational and management review by a consultant — former auditor general Arn van Iersel — detailed a host of areas where changes are needed. Those are still being reviewed by the committee, which has been an empty, irrelevant box on the legislature flow chart for years. But at this point, it looks like a promise to make a whole series of radical changes in how the place operates.
It was the shoddy accounting that caught much of the attention last week, when Doyle outlined "substantial irregularities" and "serious deficiencies" going back years.
The politicians spend months on end scrutinizing the books of every other function of government. But all the while, their own accounts are a mess. Not only that, but the committee that supposedly oversees the heart of open democratic government has never held an open meeting — it scarcely bothers to keep minutes and is four years behind in filing an annual report.
If they follow through on promises made this week, all that is going to change.
Startled reporters were invited Tuesday afternoon for the first time ever to interview committee members after their meeting. (It was closed, of course, but will be one of the last secret get-togethers.)
Future ones will be regular, open and recorded by Hansard.
One of the enduring mysteries of legislature life — what MLAs do with their expense money — will be revealed from now on. Quarterly expenses will be posted online for all 85 MLAs.
Earlier in the argument, Doyle was expressly told he was not welcome at management committee meetings, where he wanted to go over his audit findings.
Now he's being invited to appear. Even better, consultant van Iersel is telling them to "build a relationship with the auditor general" and make it clear they are interested in improving current practice.
Van Iersel also delivered a report on how constituency-office expenses are handled, and found that B.C. is behind other jurisdictions in a number of key areas. Tax money is going into constituency bank accounts to fund expenses where there is limited information on how the money is being used.
Other provinces publish reports on constituency funds, right down to the transaction details. "Here in B.C., no such information is available," he said.
The striking thing about van Iersel's main report on the operation of the legislature was how clearly he warned them to heed Doyle's recommendations.
Van Iersel said scandals in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia about financial indiscretions can raise questions of the integrity of the legislature. So a good internal control system is vital. That view was submitted in November, yet the arguing over the audit continued right through to last week.
It took a fair bit of public embarrassment, but they are at last moving in the right direction.
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