MLAs look to Alberta on finances
Jul 28 2012
Politicians overseeing what has been described as a financial mess within the secretive world of the B.C. legislature may consider adopting Alberta's model, where financial transparency is built into the most basic functions of the capital building.
Speaker Bill Barisoff, who's charged with overseeing management of the legislature, said he'll raise the idea of following Alberta's lead, in the wake of a damning report by the auditor general that said the legislature's financial books are in such disarray it's not possible to determine if any money is missing or inappropriately spent.
"I agree with you and will take that forward," Barisoff said Thursday, when asked about following Alberta.
The ultimate decision will be made by a group of MLAs sitting on a legislature management committee, which is set to meet Tuesday and announce an action plan to fix the problems.
"I would think given where we are today [the committee] would certainly entertain something of that nature," Barisoff said.
Such a move would represent a significant departure from decades of secrecy surrounding spending at the B.C. legislature, which was sharply criticized by Auditor General John Doyle in his audit.
In addition to a host of basic financial irregularities, Doyle said the books had to be adjusted by $1.3 billion due to errors in a $70-million-a-year budget. He also said there wasn't proper documentation used when legislature staff paid off credit cards that MLAs use to pay for travel and other expenses.
Alberta appears to have sidestepped most of the financial concerns that Doyle suggests plague B.C.
The Alberta legislative assembly has for years produced audited reports of its $60-million budget, its MLA expenses have been regularly reviewed by the auditor general, and the entire operation falls under Freedom of Information legislation for public access to financial figures.
"There's nothing that prompted it. We've always believed it's important to have expenses audited so that myself, as the clerk, am confident that the members' expenditures are validated," said David McNeil, clerk of the Alberta legislative assembly.
B.C. does none of those things. Former B.C. clerk George MacMinn, who retired in 2011 after 50 years in the job, tried at first to stop the auditor general's audit, Doyle said.
MacMinn's replacement, Craig James, said he's taking immediate steps to address Doyle's concerns and has hired three outside consultants for help.
The committee of MLAs overseeing spending at the Alberta legislature meets in public. B.C.'s committee hasn't released an annual report on its activities in four years.
NDP house leader John Horgan has called the audit an embarrassment for all MLAs and said the oversight committee is too lax.
Independent MLA Bob Simpson, from Cariboo North, called the legislature audit "deeply troubling" in a statement Friday and accused the committee of MLAs of "troubling arrogance."
Veteran political scientist Norman Ruff said the Speaker and legislative staff appear to have fallen lax in accountability. "Ultimately, you hold someone accountable by dismissing them," he said. "And there's not even a hint of that."
He said Barisoff, MLAs and staff need to send a message that "the legislature is not their own private club."
"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," Ruff said of public transparency on the legislature's inner workings.
"We need far more of it in that office."