Delegates voting Wednesday morning at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

Cities oppose new spending watchdog

Many UBCM delegates fear planned watchdog on waste would itself be a waste of money

VANCOUVER – B.C. mayors and councillors overwhelmingly voted Thursday to object to provincial plans to a create a municipal auditor-general.

Many delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention said the planned watchdog on waste would itself be a waste of money. But after several suggestions to restrict the scope of the auditor’s work, delegates approved a motion to continue working with the provincial government on the project.

Civic leaders are riled by the goverment’s vow to bring in the auditor to help police spending by municipalities and regional districts. Most were not appeased by provincial promises the auditor’s recommendations will be non-binding, that the office won’t meddle with civic policy and that the costs would be borne by Victoria.

“One thing I’ve learned in politics is don’t trust,” said Cowichan Valley delegate Loren Duncan. “This whole thing is driven by an agenda of the business community to have someone on the inside to bedevil the local governments on their taxation policies.”

Cities will end up shouldering the cost of their own extra staff time involved, predicted Port Alberni Coun. Jack McLeman said. “Don’t force things on us,” he said.

“We do not want another bureaucracy formed and that’s exactly what this is,” said Cariboo Regional District director Roberta Faust. “Believe me, it will be coming out of all our taxpayers’ pockets.”

Al Siebring, a North Cowichan delegate, said UBCM needs to work with the province on the roll-out of the auditor or else cities will have no influence on what happens.

A handful of delegates spoke in support of the municipal auditor concept, saying cities should have nothing to fear from a new tool for taxpayer transparency.

“I’m not scared of a municipal auditor-general for our cities and I don’t see why anybody else should be,” Colwood Mayor Dave Saunders said.

The resolution adopted Thursday calls the office unnecessary but endorses the UBCM executive’s policy paper on how to try to shape the outcome.

A municipal auditor was promised by Premier Christy Clark in her leadership campaign. Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Ida Chong says the auditor will not duplicate audits of municipal books that are already required, but will compare performance of local governments to determine best practices on major projects funded by senior governments.