The B.C. NDP government has embarked on a review of one of former premier Christy Clark’s more controversial ideas, an auditor general to examine the performance of municipal governments.
Unpopular with municipalities since Clark promised it during her 2012 bid for the leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party, the Auditor General for Local Government has carried on with “performance audits” of municipal projects and financial management since the original auditor was fired in 2015 over internal conflicts with staff.
Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson confirmed that a review is underway, as required by the legislation that set up the office.
“I’m not going to pre-determine the outcome of the review at this time,” Robinson said Monday. “I’ll be looking to determine whether the office is offering value to local governments and whether changes made prior to my time in government have been effective.”
Clark and former communities minister Peter Fassbender argued that performance auditing isn’t a duplication of standard annual audits local governments are required to do, but rather a way to find and share best practices for managing construction, running utilities and other local government functions.
Premier John Horgan promised to scrap the office in his 2015 speech to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, where Fassbender announced the current auditor, former Metro Vancouver chief financial officer Gordon Ruth. The announcement came before an audience of hostile mayors and councillors who were in some cases refusing to spend staff time cooperating with a project that was in disarray.
Ruth was appointed to replace Basia Ruta, a former federal auditor who was fired after she refused to participate in an internal review of her performance, amid reports that work had stalled with more than $5 million spent on municipal audit efforts.
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The most recent audit on the municipal auditor’s website, released in April, looked at the City of Kelowna’s management of drinking water. It was a follow-up to a similar look at drinking water management in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business continues to support having a separate auditor for local government, arguing that small businesses paying a large share of local property taxes. Richard Truscott, CFIB vice president for B.C. and Alberta, says some of the audits were requested by the municipal governments themselves.
“The audits done on how to improve municipal procurement processes, or those on human resources, or those on human resources practices, are excellent examples of the valuable work the AGLG has been doing,” Truscott told Black Press.
“I know some municipal governments get their backs up, and don’t always appreciate being held accountable for the money they spend,” Truscott said. “But it’s exactly what local businesses and other taxpayers rightfully expect and demand.
“Rather than constantly raising taxes, there definitely should be a focus on looking at how wisely municipalities are spending the billions of dollars already handed over each year by taxpayers.”