B.C. meets new Auditor General for local government

Basia Ruta was introduced by Minister for Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett at a press conference in Surrey Thursday.

Auditor General Basia Ruta

Auditor General Basia Ruta

B.C.’s new Auditor General for Local Government was introduced Thursday morning, promising to share successes being had by municipalities across the province.

Basia Ruta was introduced by Minister for Community, Sport and Cultural Development Bill Bennett at a press conference in Surrey, which the Townsman attended via conference call.

“This is an exciting announcement for the provincial government,” said Bennett, MLA for Kootenay East. “It is a significant step towards local government and accountability.”

The new Auditor General for Local Government office will work much like the province’s regular Auditor General – independently of elected politicians. Bennett touched on that in his speech, saying he was excited to participate in the set up of the office before they take over their work.

“I actually helped to take the plastic off the chairs, so I feel like I’m part of the enterprise,” he said. “This is probably the last time I’ll ever set foot in this office. The idea is for the Auditor General for Local Government to work apart from government.”

Acting Cranbrook Mayor Sharon Cross said the city welcomes the outside eyes to look at what they’re doing correctly, and how they can improve services to taxpayers.

“The Mayor (Wayne Stetski) has welcomed it since the province first introduced the idea,” Cross said. “It’s always good to have an outside body to look at the work we’re doing, and also being acknowledged for a job well done.”

During the press conference, Ruta stressed that her office will look for successes other municipalities are having and will share that information so that other cities in the province can learn. Cross said council is looking forward to having that opportunity.

“When you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and can learn from others’ successes, that’s always a bonus,” she said.

Ruta said a number of communities have already approached her with projects they would like her office to review. She welcomed the enthusiasm.

“It might be that they have come up with practises that are cost effective, and they want that confirmed or want to share what they’ve learned, or learn where they can improve,” she said.

Any problems with municipal audits or success will be reported out of Ruta’s office. She said the difficult task will be choosing the subjects that will be the best use of their time.

“This office will not be a cure-all for all issues, but we will work hard,” Ruta said.

Bennett said the new Auditor General for Local Government would be a first in Canada, to his knowledge.

“B.C. will be the leader in this,” he said. “I can tell you I’m not aware of any other Auditor General for Local Government in Canada.”

Councillor Gerry Warner said it is the right time in the history of municipal politics to have an Auditor General for Local Government established. He points to issues around the country as examples of where the watchdog would have been helpful.

“Even though I heard a lot of criticism of setting up a municipal auditor general at the UBCM convention last October, I’m in favour of the office being established,” Warner said. “You just have to look at some of the municipal spending controversies here in B.C., such as the recent one in Rossland and the outright scandals that have occurred in Montreal, to realize that fiscal oversight is always needed and the more the better. I think a municipal auditor general will help to inject more honesty and integrity into the system.”

The new Surrey-based office opened Thursday for the first time, although Ruta was officially appointed in November. Bennett said she has been on the job for a total of three days now, and highlighted her career experience. Ruta is a Chartered accountant and has worked in the federal office of the Auditor General, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and as Environment Canada’s chief financial officer.

“Throughout her career she’s been a proven innovator, and here in B.C., innovation is what we’re looking for,” Bennett said.

Ruta said her work is already underway, and she has booked meetings with municipalities across the province to get to know the people she will be working with closely over her five-year term. She will begin with a meeting next week with Union of B.C. Municipalities executives and hopes to have audits underway shortly after.

“My intention is to be under way with our first performance audit by April 1,” Ruta said.

Bennett said Ruta will not have any authority to force municipalities to act, however her performance audits will be released to the public.

The idea to appoint an Auditor General for Local Government came from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, Bennett continued. He said he liked the idea as soon as it was suggested. It was then put forward as a promise under Premier Christy Clark’s Families First agenda.

The public can keep up with Ruta’s activities by visiting www.aglg.ca. The website was launched on January 16.