Time to start fresh with new AG, Bennett says

Decision to not re-appoint Auditor General John Doyle normal procedure, MLA says.

tenay East Norma Blissett is calling on the B.C. Liberal government to walk back their decision to not re-appoint Auditor General John Doyle.

“Auditor General John Doyle has been an excellent watchdog for the people of B.C. It now appears that the Liberal government is trying to silence him,” Blissett said.

But MLA for Kootenay East Bill Bennett says the decision not to re-appoint Doyle is no conspiracy, and Doyle leaving after only one term is normal.

“This is the second Auditor General in a row that has had a five-year term,” Bennett said.

Before Doyle assumed the position in October, 2007, Errol Price was B.C.’s top watchdog. He served only one term as well. Bennett said that because there was no election looming in 2007, the issue was not publicized as much.

“There was no election. No controversy,” Bennett said. “It isn’t unusual for Auditors General across the country to last five years.”

Doyle’s responsibility is to conduct audits of government’s ministries, Crown corporations and other government organizations. Once those reports are completed, they are filed and entered in the public record.

“Government has an obligation to listen to the reports and respond to them,” Bennett said.

He added that the  Auditor General works with bureaucrats behind the scenes for the legislature, not for the elected officials who ultimately decide if his term is renewed or not.

“Auditors General don’t deal with the politicians,” he said.

Bennett said the decision not to re-appoint Doyle had nothing to do with politics.

“There’s often reason to start fresh,” he said. “I think it’s a little rich for the NDP to suggest it was some sort of partisan decision.”

Bennett said that the rules for the committee – which conducts its business in-camera – are different than regular government committees.

“This is a legislative committee, not a government committee,” he said.

All activities conducted by a legislative committee are done confidentially, and in the case of the committee charged with re-appointing Doyle, the decision had to be unanimous or Doyle would not be re-appointed. The committee is ultimately in charge of examining the legislature’s budget.

Media reports last week revealed that the chair of the legislative committee, B.C. Liberal MLA Eric Foster, himself was being investigated by Doyle’s office. Foster was cited in a confidential letter for inadequate documentation of renovations to his constituency office worth $67,000. He later said he was unaware of the investigation.

Foster was cleared of a conflict-of-interest allegation by the Auditor General’s office earlier in 2012, after the contractor for the renovations was found to be a family member of one of the constituency office employees.

Speculation about which members of the committee voted for or against Doyle’s re-appointment have been prominent in B.C. media for the past week.

Bennett points to opposition MLA Norm Macdonald, who linked to a blog by former Victoria Times Colonist editor Paul Wilcocks who suggested Foster should have stepped down from the committee due to the investigations.

Bennett believes Macdonald is in breach of the legislative assembly for announcing the results of the committee’s vote.

“He has actually breached the rules,” Bennett said.

Macdonald denies any wrong doing, and admits he linked to the Wilcocks blog in question. He believes Bennett is trying to shift the blame elsewhere.

Blissett said Foster is not the only BC Liberal cited in Doyle’s reports. He has targeted a number of B.C. Liberal activities, most notably the $6 million in legal fees paid to former ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bobby Virk, who were convicted of leaking information related to the sale of BC Rail. Doyle is in the process of fighting the B.C. government in court for access to the files related to the payout.

“People want a government that is accountable,” Blissett said. “Reappointing Mr Doyle would save time and money and would serve the public interest.”

Blissett’s thoughts are echoed by NDP leader Adrian Dix, who said the decision made no sense.

“The Auditor General has done an outstanding job by any measure and deserves to be reappointed,” Dix said. “It simply makes no sense to deny reappointment when the Auditor General’s initial appointment was unanimous and he has done such an excellent job serving the public interest.”

Blissett called on Bennett to speak out in favour of re-appointing Doyle.

Bennett believes that the next Auditor General of B.C. will be just as objective as Doyle has been.

“There’s no reason to think otherwise,” he said.

Bennett could not comment on how long it will take to hire a new person for the job, but said the same committee will make those hiring decisions, however it may be shuffled around this Spring. The five-member committee has three Liberal and two NDP members.