BC Liberals anything but accountable as Auditor-general rips them over honesty, but Premier Christy Clark says it's municipal governments that need auditing
Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column
Tuesday October 4, 2011
By Bill Tieleman
"The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity."
- Andre Gide, 1869-1951
At its best, political hypocrisy can be nothing short of astonishing.
Last week Premier Christy Clark set the gold standard for hypocrisy by calling for an auditor-general of municipal governments at the same the provincial auditor-general ripped her BC Liberal government for "unacceptable" accounting practices going back years!
Clark told delegates to the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention that her government would proceed with a new auditor-general for cities and towns, despite their opposition over a total lack of consultation.
But over in Victoria, provincial auditor-general John Doyle was telling the real story -- about Clark's government itself not reporting the books honestly to taxpayers.
Doyle pointed to a lack of transparency about over $80 billion worth of B.C. government contracts in private-public-partnerships or P3s, ranging from independent power producers to construction of the new Port Mann Bridge.
"In the auditing profession, a qualified audit report is a rare occurrence: it indicates to the users of the financial statements that some of the information is not auditable or is misleading," Doyle said.
"During the last 15 years, this office has issued qualified audit reports on the province's financial statements 12 times. For a government that strives for transparency and accountability, this is unacceptable."
Clark's answer to Doyle's body-slamming criticism: "Look over there! Municipal governments have no auditor-general! We're going to give them one!"
And even more amusingly, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon called the report a "somewhat esoteric debate on accounting principles."
Somewhat esoteric? B.C.'s auditor-general just called the government's performance "unacceptable"!
Oh, the coincidences!
But the hypocrisy gets better still, because two government allies made it even better.
First Phil Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, major BC Liberal Party donors, issued a poll just before Clark spoke to the UBCM that said the public supports a municipal auditor-general.
What surprising timing!
Then the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's B.C. branch comes out with its own support for reining in those evil municipal politicians with an auditor-general.
And to strike even more fear into city councils, the CTF is demanding they sign a "taxpayers pledge" to cut their own salaries if they increase property taxes beyond inflation without a referendum.
Who is promoting the CTF's cheesy demands? Why, none other than Jordan Bateman, the CTF's B.C. communications director who happens to be the former BC Liberal constituency association president for BC Liberal Energy Minister Rich Coleman! What a coincidence.
And then the Canadian Federation of Independent Business launches its own remarkably similar "taxpayers pledge" last week.
But amazingly, the ICBA, the CFT and the CFIB -- who are all so concerned about taxpayers -- have said absolutely nothing about the provincial government's "unacceptable" financial reporting.
And they all strongly supported the Harmonized Sales Tax despite their claims of concern for ordinary taxpayers, who voted to extinguish it in the August provincial referendum.
Could it be that the ICBA -- some of whose members are building the Port Mann Bridge -- doesn't want to criticize its biggest patron, the B.C. government? Nah!
Oh the omitted truths!
None of this stopped Non-Partisan Association mayoralty candidate Suzanne Anton and her team from immediately endorsing the CFIB pledge or the call for a municipal auditor-general.
And even more coincidence, my fellow 24 hours columnist Daniel Fontaine -- chief of staff to former NPA mayor Sam Sullivan -- pumped the ICBA poll just days after it was issued!
But let's see how both levels of government actually compare on accountability:
Municipal governments and school boards are required by B.C. law to balance their budget every year -- and that legislation was never repealed.
The BC Liberal government broke and then repealed its own balanced budget legislation, going $2.8 billion in debt.
Municipal governments must obtain the approval of taxpayers for all major capital expenditures in a binding referendum before proceeding.
The B.C. government has increased capital expenditures by $45 billion over the past 10 years -- all without a single referendum vote.
Municipal governments hold open council meetings on a mostly weekly basis where the public and media can attend. The B.C. cabinet holds weekly closed meetings where neither public nor media are allowed.
Municipal governments hold elections every three years on a fixed election date.
B.C. governments hold elections every four years on a fixed election date that the premier openly speculated for months she would break to call a fall election to her political advantage.
Municipal delegates voted overwhelmingly to reject B.C.'s idea of imposing an auditor-general on them without consultation, noting that position would be under the political control of the government.
The B.C. government has consistently ignored its own auditor-general's demands to make its books more transparent and accountable to the point that it is "unacceptable" to an independent officer of the Legislature.
The provincial auditor-general is an independent officer of the B.C. Legislature and does not report to the government of the day. The municipal auditor-general would not be independent and would be under B.C. government supervision.
I would have to say the local governments win this debate hands down.
Read the report
For those who really care about accountability, provincial auditor-general John Doyle's report makes for grim reading.
His section on "disclosure of contractual obligation" is nothing short of stunning.
"As Exhibit 7 shows, these contractual obligations have exceeded $50 billion since 2007, and increased to $80 billion in 2011," Doyle writes.
"Most of the 2011 increase is due to BC Hydro entering into long-term energy purchase agreements with independent power producers. However, few details on these agreements are provided by government," he drily notes.
For the BC Liberals and their friends to lecture anyone on accountability is unacceptable hypocrisy.