Cities grill province over municipal auditor

Civic leaders skeptical as Chong tries to calm concerns over new watchdog

Community

B.C. cities remain deeply suspicious of the province’s plan to unleash a municipal auditor-general to uncover their wasteful spending despite government assurances the findings will be non-binding.

Civic reps ripped into the idea Tuesday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, raising questions about the costs and potential loss of local autonomy.

“To me this is redundant,” said Nelson Coun. Robin Cherbo, who said the province should turn over the money that it would spend on the office to cities to shore up aging infrastructure.

“Who is going to do a value-for-money audit on the municipal auditor-general?” demanded Oliver Mayor Pat Hampson.

Delta Coun. Bruce McDonald wanted to know if the spending watchdog might press Delta to give up its municipal police force.

They spoke after Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong told UBCM delegates the province will pass enabling legislation in October to set up a municipal auditor-general.

She urged cities to work with her to “shape” the office and determine how it works.

“It’s not another layer of bureaucracy,” Chong said. “It should be treated as a benefit, a resource.”

Chong pledged the province will pay for the municipal auditor costs – a key concern of the UBCM.

She said cities will decide whether to implement recommendations, but added councils that don’t will be answerable to their taxpayers.

The office would conduct a limited number of value-for-money performance audits on cities or civic projects.

Business and industry groups have long wanted to curb what they see as overspending by cities on questionable priorities.

They also want caps on business and industrial tax rates, which councils say could force up residential rates.

Chong and deputy minister Don Fast stressed the auditor wouldn’t seek to alter the policies of elected councils or their taxation rates.

The goal, Fast said, is to deliver independent, professional advice that is “not controlled by government, not controlled by business.”

UBCM officials said the planned municipal auditor – a Liberal leadership campaign promise of Premier Christy Clark – still needs a lot more work to make it work.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan questioned whether the province might still pressure cities to act on the auditor’s recommendations.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, Metro Vancouver’s representative on the UBCM executive, said much monitoring of civic best practices is already done and shared throughout the province by the UBCM.

“We all want to look at value for money,” Moore said, but added it remains unclear how far the recommendations might go or how the auditor’s office would be controlled.

One option, according to Chong and Fast, is to create a separate oversight committee or council so the municipal auditor doesn’t answer directly to a government minister.

“The devil is in the detail,” Moore said.

The municipal auditor issue goes to a vote of the convention Thursday.

The draft resolution merely endorses the UBCM executive’s approach to the issue, but delegates may seek to amend it to make a more forceful statement.

Just Posted

Plantitude giving Ladysmith vegans equal footing

New downtown restaurant believed to be downtown’s first featuring all vegan options

Home care complaints up 45% on Vancouver Island

Number of home care hours delivered down 6%, complaints up 45 %

Volunteers take down after another successful Ladysmith Festival of Lights

Good crowd comes out for a sunny Sunday volunteer session of taking down decorations

Blood moon over Ladysmith

Gerry Beltgens shook off cold fingers this weekend to capture this image… Continue reading

Reflections of Ladysmith: The Art of Michael Dean

Work, place and people are inseparable for Vancouver Island painter

VIDEO: Here’s what the B.C. legislature officers are accused of buying

Personal trips, purchases, alcohol and more laid out in 76-page report by Plecas

Former Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay voted into Baseball Hall of Fame

M’s legend Edgar Martinez, Rivera, Mussina also make the grade

Why would the B.C. legislature need a firewood splitter?

First sign of police involvement in investigation of top managers

New Canada Food Guide nixes portion sizes, promotes plant-based proteins

Guide no longer lists milk and dairy products as a distinct food group

Judge annuls hairdresser’s forced marriage to boss’ relative

Woman was told she’d be fired if she didn’t marry boss’s Indian relative so he could immigrate here

Liberals look to make home-buying more affordable for millennials: Morneau

Housing is expected to be a prominent campaign issue ahead of October’s federal election

Cannabis-carrying border crossers could be hit with fines under coming system

Penalties are slated to be in place some time next year

Man accused of threatening to kill ‘as many girls as I see’

Christopher W. Cleary wrote he was angry because he’d never had a girlfriend and wanted to ‘make it right’ with a mass shooting

Most Read