Monty Python joins search for auditor

Les Leyne: Monty Python joins search for auditor
LES LEYNE / TIMES COLONIST
OCTOBER 8, 2015 12:48 AM

Peter Fassbender wouldn’t reveal the cost of an out-of-court settlement. Then he went on say that an auditor general for local government doesn’t necessarily have to have any qualifications.

The government is dropping the requirement that the auditor general for local government be an auditor. It raised a few eyebrows in the legislature during debate.

Doctors need medical degrees. Pilots need pilot’s licences. You’d think an auditor general would need to be an auditor.

But that’s old-school thinking. The requirement is being abandoned in a new bill, due to the expensive misadventures that led to the first AGLG being dismissed in March.

It’s just one of the curiosities that have cropped up lately in the office. For example, last month the Union of B.C. Municipalities, representing all the local governments that the office is supposed to audit, came up with a motion demanding the whole thing be abandoned. The government responded by announcing right in the middle of the convention that a new AGLG was being appointed.

He’s Gordon Ruth, a veteran accountant. He’s a fully qualified auditor, so relaxing the qualifications will be an academic point during his term. The municipal delegates responded to the news by enthusiastically passing the resolution demanding his job be eliminated, which gives you a feel for the general state of affairs.

Local officials have resented the idea from day one, when Premier Christy Clark proposed it during her leadership run. But the B.C. Liberals want to make it happen, UBCM be damned.

After the dismissal of Basia Ruta in March, part of the relaunch is a rewrite of legislation that governs the office. It’s done from the perspective of lessons learned, and they were hard ones.

Ruta promised 18 audits right off the bat, but the office got bogged down and barely accomplished any. An oversight body started expressing concerns that culminated in her dismissal. She sued for wrongful dismissal but settled for an undisclosed sum. Peter Fassbender, the minister responsible, refused to reveal the cost in the house on Wednesday.

The new bill reflects more interest in experience and familiarity with local governments in B.C. than in audit qualifications. The first version listed being an auditor as one of the qualifications for the job. But that has been dropped.

Fassbender said the government wanted more flexibility to pick people who could work with governments and lead the office. “The fact that they were or were not an auditor was not the primary concern.”

It left some Opposition critics incredulous.

NDP MLA Selina Robinson said: “I want to make sure I really understand this. One does not need to know anything about being an auditor … You don’t actually necessarily have to have any qualifications.”

Fassbender said the office is dedicated to performance audits, not the traditional financial audits. He later offered another unique explanation: “Here’s the key. The professional staff … will ensure that the standards that are being used comply with industry standards … But it is not a requirement through this office and the reviews that local governments have to follow the recommendations. They are brought to them in the form of recommendations.”

The thinking seems to be that since no one is obliged to pay attention to the audits, there’s no need for the auditor to be an auditor.

Which prompted Robinson to ask: “I want to know if the minister sees how sort of silly it sounds.”

Fassbender: “No, I don’t.”

Independent MLA Vicki Huntington said: “It’s the most nonsensical thing I’ve heard of, other than red-tape day.”

So Fassbender tried again. “This is all about building relationships.” He said one of the most important things he heard from local governments is that they wanted “a relationship where their sensitivities and needs were understood” by the AGLG.

Actually, they assembled en masse and voted to demand the office be shut down because it’s a waste of money. Fassbender seems to have been at the wrong encounter group.

Huntington got all huffy and said it was embarrassing to listen to Fassbender’s nonsense. Clearly, she doesn’t appreciate the Monty Python approach to auditing.

It’s only the deputy AGLG who has to be an auditor. Because the boss no longer has to be one.

“It’s a brand-new approach,” Fassbender said.

lleyne@timescolonist.com