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B.C. Independent Officers Should Never Be Re-Appointed

Posted: 01/10/2013 1:52 pm

With all of the media, pundit and opposition wailing over the impending departure of B.C. Auditor General John Doyle, one can be forgiven for jumping on the bandwagon to reappoint Doyle for another six years. However, that would be a big mistake.

No doubt, Doyle is a superb auditor general. He is tough as nails and holds the government to account — the job of an independent officer. He fulfilled his mandate to serve "the people of British Columbia and their elected representatives by conducting independent audits and advising on how well government is managing its responsibilities and resources."

Whether it was his dogged chase of Basi-Virk settlement details, bringing B.C. Hydro's growing and worrisome debt load to public attention, his epic 17-page beatdown of MLA spending practices or his multi-year battle with the comptroller general over how B.C.'s deficit is calculated, Doyle epitomized the great Ronald Reagan quote: "When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat."

But that doesn't mean he should get another six years. In fact, no independent officer of the legislature should ever be re-appointed.

Legislative officers must be, first and foremost, independent. Any re-appointment process undermines that independence.

When re-appointment is an option, nearing the end of their first six-year term some independent officers begin to wonder whether the government will reappoint them. They may ease up on the government to help their cause — human nature dictates the difficulty of biting the hand that feeds us. This undermines the office and puts taxpayers at risk. The last thing we want is an officer trying to get a government to renew his or her contract.

In Ottawa, they figured this out years ago when it came to their auditor general. The federal government's auditor general is appointed to one, non-renewable, 10-year term.

Undoubtedly, many taxpayers still hold former federal auditor general Shelia Fraser in high esteem. Whether it was her investigation into the sponsorship scandal, the outing of the federal inmate ombudsman for collecting a six-figure salary while allegedly avoiding much of his work, or her calculations on the cost of the wasteful gun registry, Fraser pulled no punches and got results.

But it's worth asking if Fraser would have dug as deep, spoken so bluntly or achieved the same outcomes if she was forced to beg for her job back after six years. Auditors general are supposed to be above politics; above campaigning for re-selection.

B.C. taxpayers should be grateful to Doyle for his persistent, hard-nosed work over the past six years. And perhaps six years is too short of a term, but renewal should not be an option. Now it's time for another watchdog to come in and give issues fresh eyes and a fresh voice, just as Doyle built on the work of previous auditors general like Arn van Iersel, Wayne Strelioff and George Morfitt. The office continues on, with each A-G adding his or her own individual expertise and interests to the mix.

If the public is serious about protecting the independence of the auditor general, ombudsperson, information and privacy commissioner, conflict of interest commissioner, merit commissioner, police complaint commissioner and representative for children and youth, we should push government to extend their terms to a more reasonable eight years and forbid reappointment under any circumstance.

This simple reform would ensure more fiercely independent watchdogs like Doyle — and B.C. taxpayers would be better for it.

 

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