BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. premier plans to remove politics from auditor general selection process

01/16/2013 03:01 EST | Updated 03/18/2013 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - Controversy over the imminent departure of British Columbia's auditor general has forced the provincial government to take steps to revamp the watchdog selection process, a practice that the premier admits is tainted by politics.

The government will introduce legislation amending the act used to appoint the independent watchdog in the wake of a committee's decision against renewing John Doyle's term, Premier Christy Clark announced on Wednesday.

"When you're working inside a flawed process, you're likely to get a flawed result," Clark told reporters at her Vancouver office.

"We need to fix it for the citizens of British Columbia so that they know that this office will always be above politics."

Future auditors general will be appointed to single, eight-year terms if the changes to be introduced in the spring session are passed, Clark said.

The premier said she has reflected on the current situation and reviewed best practices across Canada and within the federal government to make the decision. Her goal is to prevent the pattern of issues that arise when a term ends ahead of a provincial election, she explained.

"By doing this we give the auditor general appropriate time to pursue the matters he or she needs to look into appropriately and effectively, without worrying about whether or not they will be rehired," she said, "and without perceptions that election year concerns are playing a role."

A Liberal-dominated committee decided earlier this month not to renew Doyle's contract for another six years.

The move comes in the midst of allegations from the Opposition NDP that the committee had shunned Doyle because his work routinely criticizes the Liberal government, which heads into an election in May.

Clark now suggests the members of the five-person committee consider extending Doyle's expiring term by another two years, in order to complete the new eight-year scheme.

The independent committee is not legally bound to explain its decisions, but must make them unanimously.

"If I had my wish, Mr. Doyle would be offered the opportunity to stay on," she said, while noting the decision clearly remains in the committee's hands.

Several of Doyle's reports have taken aim at the government on spending issues. He has also spearheaded a drive to uncover more information about a decision to pay $6 million in legal bills for two former government aides who pleaded guilty to corruption charges.

NDP caucus chairman Shane Simpson said his party wants to see more details of Clark's plans, calling the moves damage control.

"Clearly, they made a decision to not reappoint Mr. Doyle. It has blown up in their face, and across the province people have said it's a horrible decision," he said. "They're now trying to fix it and this is the premier's effort to fix this."

Simpson acknowledged that NDP Leader Adrian Dix said publicly earlier this month the party would praise Clark and the Liberals if they moved to reconsider the decision not to make the reappointment.

He added the NDP still isn't convinced the all-party committee will agree to Doyle's term extension.

Controversy also arose around the process of appointing an auditor general in 2007, when then-watchdog Arn Van Iersel resigned. Van Iersel left office saying he believed it was important for the position to be permanent.