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Battle of B.C. Rail eats into budget

Jul 10 2012

B.C.'s financial watchdog says he's been left scrambling in the wake of budget constraints to his office.

Auditor General John Doyle released his office's annual report this week, saying he's disappointed the B.C. government shot down his modest request for more money to train staff to deal with a heavy workload.

"They said no, but they've got every right to say no," said Doyle. "But in saying no, they cut me back, which basically meant I had to scramble to find our resources."

A bipartisan committee of MLAs rejected Doyle's one-time funding request of $643,000 late last year, which would have been used to train staff to new accounting standards and move his office to a seismically safe location.

Instead, the Liberal majority on the committee, citing the province's difficult economic circumstances, clawed back almost $200,000 it had previously approved for Doyle, and held him at the 2011 level of $15.752 million.

"It's not only we had less, it's also we had some big projects we were trying to deal with," Doyle said.

One such project is his office's continued fight with the government to access all the records relating to the waiver of $6 million in legal fees for two former Liberal political aides, Dave Basi and Bob Virk. The men pleaded guilty to breach of trust and accepting bribes during the controversial sale of B.C. Rail in 2003.

The case remains a political lightning rod for the B.C. Liberals. Conservative MLA John van Dongen, who left the Liberals in part over the B.C. Rail scandal, has won intervener status in the auditor general's court case, further complicating the process.

Doyle is back in court in September, continuing a fight that "is taking up a lot of resources at the moment."

Doyle said he doesn't think the government is trying to punish him by reducing his office budget. "If the government is thinking I'm being hard on them, no more than usual."

Overall, he said, he has had good government co-operation in 70 reports during the year and is "really pleased" with how the government has accepted and implemented almost all of his recommendations.

The budget constraints make it hard to cultivate and grow talented chartered accountants in the office, and groom them for senior positions, said Doyle. The auditor general's office has 111 full-time employees.

Doyle, the former deputy auditor general of Western Australia, was appointed to the B.C. job in late 2007 and his term is set to expire in the fall of 2013.

"I would very much like to stay," he said.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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