Today's 24 Hours column supports the Province's proposed M.A.G.
A few weeks ago Mayor Gregor Robertson told the media that it was “ignorant” for people to think he could find one per cent savings within his billion-dollar city hall budget. He was responding to criticisms that Metro Vancouver mayors appeared too eager to jack up taxes, rather than undertake budget cuts, to help pay for the new Evergreen Line.
During her bid to become leader of the BC Liberal Party, Premier Christy Clark floated a very interesting proposal about creating a new municipal auditor general. She thought it was time that civic officials underwent the same kind of financial scrutiny that provincial and federal governments must face each year.
It’s easy to argue that Sheila Fraser, Canada’s auditor general, has clearly shaken things up at the federal level. She’s worked tirelessly, regardless of which party is in power, at ensuring there is value in every tax dollar spent. The same can be said for B.C.’s auditor general.
However, at the municipal level there is no similar watchdog. There are merely a handful of poorly paid, part-time civic politicians who are expected to keep watch over billions of dollars worth of expenditures. This is not good enough in my opinion and it’s why I wholeheartedly support the Premier’s initiative.
In Vancouver alone, we’ve recently witnessed millions of dollars being wasted on costly office upgrades, Olympic tickets for politicians and their spouses and untendered communication contracts.
In fact, rather than moving toward more stringent oversight of municipal spending, the governing Vision Vancouver caucus is making it easier for senior managers to spend tax dollars without any prior political approval.
I certainly hope the auditor general’s jurisdiction will also include the unelected and unaccountable government known as Metro Vancouver. They are responsible for spending billions of your municipal tax dollars and incredibly they face even less scrutiny than your local council.
When Metro Vancouver is not wasting tens of thousands of your tax dollars to send non-board members to obscure international conferences, it’s shelling out hundreds of millions more on major infrastructure projects.
One of those boondoggles was a new water filtration system which ended up costing taxpayers several hundred million more than was budgeted. The project ended up triggering a very costly lawsuit with a private construction firm.
Rather than oppose the concept of municipal auditor general, mayors and councilors should welcome the prospect of more openness and transparency at the local level. If Robertson is correct and there truly is no fat left to cut, he should have nothing to be worried about.