Cities grill province over municipal auditor

Civic leaders skeptical as Chong tries to calm concerns over new watchdog

Community

B.C. cities remain deeply suspicious of the province’s plan to unleash a municipal auditor-general to uncover their wasteful spending despite government assurances the findings will be non-binding.

Civic reps ripped into the idea Tuesday at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, raising questions about the costs and potential loss of local autonomy.

“To me this is redundant,” said Nelson Coun. Robin Cherbo, who said the province should turn over the money that it would spend on the office to cities to shore up aging infrastructure.

“Who is going to do a value-for-money audit on the municipal auditor-general?” demanded Oliver Mayor Pat Hampson.

Delta Coun. Bruce McDonald wanted to know if the spending watchdog might press Delta to give up its municipal police force.

They spoke after Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong told UBCM delegates the province will pass enabling legislation in October to set up a municipal auditor-general.

She urged cities to work with her to “shape” the office and determine how it works.

“It’s not another layer of bureaucracy,” Chong said. “It should be treated as a benefit, a resource.”

Chong pledged the province will pay for the municipal auditor costs – a key concern of the UBCM.

She said cities will decide whether to implement recommendations, but added councils that don’t will be answerable to their taxpayers.

The office would conduct a limited number of value-for-money performance audits on cities or civic projects.

Business and industry groups have long wanted to curb what they see as overspending by cities on questionable priorities.

They also want caps on business and industrial tax rates, which councils say could force up residential rates.

Chong and deputy minister Don Fast stressed the auditor wouldn’t seek to alter the policies of elected councils or their taxation rates.

The goal, Fast said, is to deliver independent, professional advice that is “not controlled by government, not controlled by business.”

UBCM officials said the planned municipal auditor – a Liberal leadership campaign promise of Premier Christy Clark – still needs a lot more work to make it work.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan questioned whether the province might still pressure cities to act on the auditor’s recommendations.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, Metro Vancouver’s representative on the UBCM executive, said much monitoring of civic best practices is already done and shared throughout the province by the UBCM.

“We all want to look at value for money,” Moore said, but added it remains unclear how far the recommendations might go or how the auditor’s office would be controlled.

One option, according to Chong and Fast, is to create a separate oversight committee or council so the municipal auditor doesn’t answer directly to a government minister.

“The devil is in the detail,” Moore said.

The municipal auditor issue goes to a vote of the convention Thursday.

The draft resolution merely endorses the UBCM executive’s approach to the issue, but delegates may seek to amend it to make a more forceful statement.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers and COVID-19 contact tracers must stop, Chilliwack soccer club says

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

Mark Strahl, MP for Chilliwack-Hope in the virtual House of Commons Oct. 26, 2020 going to bat for Fraser Valley Speciality Poultry. (Mark Strahl/Facebook)
MP Strahl goes to bat for Chilliwack farmer in the virtual House of Commons

‘Why are the Liberals running roughshod over this hard-working Canadian farmer?’ MP asked

The Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation held its inaugural Grand Gala in November 2019 at Harrison Hot Springs Resort. This year’s event will be held online. (Submitted photo)
Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation holds virtual Grand Gala

Second annual event takes place online on Nov. 20, raising funds for local hospitals

The smaller eagle on the left side of the picture has been stolen from the Sq’ewá:lxw First Nation. If found, contact the community office at 604-796-6129 or email info@skwahlook.com. (Contributed Photo/Sq’ewá:lxw First Nation)
Eagle carving stolen from Sq’ewá:lxw First Nation

If seen, contact the First Nation community office at 604-796-9129

Chilliwack has several railway crossings that can be hazardous to inattentive and unprepared drivers during the fall and winter months. (Martin Duperre photo)
CN Rail urges Fraser Valley drivers to be careful around railway crossings

The danger level jumps up during icy, windy fall and winter months causing a spike in accidents

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

It’s been eight years since Gordon Spencer (pictured), and cousin, ‘Lil’ Bruce Mayo, were gunned down in a home in Langley, and Spencer’s widow is hoping someone who knows something will step up (file)
Eight years on and still no answers in Langley double murder

Wife of victim makes public appeal for people with information to come forward

Langley resident Shaun Nugent, who died in 2019 shortly after he saved a swimmer from drowning, has been awarded a posthumous medal for bravery by the Royal Canadian Humane Association (Courtesy Nugent family)
Langley man who died after saving swimmer receives posthumous medal for bravery

Shaun Nugent rescued woman from Hayward Lake near Mission in July of 2019

Washington State Department of Agriculture workers, wearing protective suits and working vacuumed a nest of Asian giant hornets from a tree Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. Scientists in Washington state discovered the first nest earlier in the week of so-called murder hornets in the United States and worked to wipe it out Saturday morning to protect native honeybees. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Nest of ‘murder hornets’ found near South Surrey

String of traps set up along border to capture Asian giant hornets

Most Read