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Legislature audit nearly complete — no moats so far

Nov 30 2011

B.C.'s financial watchdog is taking a hard look at how money is spent inside the secretive world of the B.C. legislature.

Auditor general John Doyle's office is nearing completion on a rare audit of spending at the legislative assembly, which includes almost $69 million a year to operate the legislative buildings, pay staff salaries, cover MLA compensation and expenses and run services such as Hansard, security and the legislative library.

The details of most expenses are not normally made public because, unlike some other provinces, spending at the B.C. legislature buildings does not fall under freedom of information laws.

Doyle would not discuss the results of his audit because it is not complete.

An all-party group of MLAs oversees legislative spending through the legislative assembly management committee. Meetings are not public. Minutes and annual reports are years out of date. The spending is rarely questioned during annual budget debates.

The auditor general's office said because it is conducting a financial audit, the results will be made public only if the management committee chooses to do so. Speaker Bill Barisoff, chairman of the committee, would not commit to public disclosure. "Maybe in time," he said when asked if he'd release the audit results.

However, NDP and Liberal house leaders, who both sit on the committee, pledged to make the document public.

"As soon as it's done, I have no problems releasing it," said Rich Coleman, Liberal house leader. "I certainly would want it to be public, no question," said John Horgan, NDP house leader.

The audit comes after more than a year of pressure on MLAs to make more information about their expense accounts public, amid high-profile spending scandals in the United Kingdom where politicians expensed such things as moats for their homes.

MLAs agreed to provide a bit more information on their travel, per diem and constituency expenses this year, although the top-level numbers provide little context or any way to make meaningful comparisons.

Coleman said the auditor general has not uncovered any major spending irregularities among MLAs or legislative staff. "The comment I heard was no moats, no problems," said Coleman.

MLAs on the management committee have not read the audit, said Horgan.

"There are practices and processes and procedures that go back a long, long time in this place," said Horgan. "I would suggest there are probably differences of opinion by the audit team and those that carry the secret ruins about in this place."

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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