UBCM politicians shouldn't be so afraid of a new auditor general

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

10 comments

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Why do some civic politicians in BC think a municipal auditor general is so scary?

If you happened to be walking in downtown Vancouver this week, you might have bumped into one of the 1,000 or so municipal politicians attending their annual policy convention.

When they aren’t debating Canada-European trade relations or medical marijuana, the delegates will be talking shop at various hospitality suites and dinner banquets.

One of the topics that received a big thumbs-down from the delegates was Premier Christy Clark’s commitment to introduce a new municipal auditor general starting next year. As you can imagine, the last thing local mayors and councillors want is a bean-counter second-guessing their expenditures.

While the issue of more accountability for tax dollars spent in our cities may not be popular with municipal politicians, it gets a resounding yes from taxpayers. According to a poll commissioned by the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA), 85% of Metro Vancouver residents said they felt more oversight is required.24hours.jpg

Is it any wonder why taxpayers and business groups want more municipal politicians to be a bit more frugal when you look at how they are spending your money? In Vancouver, one of the first decisions made by newly minted Mayor Gregor Robertson was to throw himself a lavish $85,000 inaugural party. This is on top of the $800,000 Vancouver council spent on new carpets, furniture and renovations to their offices in the height of the global recession.

For far too long municipal politicians have flown under the radar when it comes to tax increases and questionable expenditures. One need only look at the fact that over the last several years tax hikes and fee increases have far outpaced the rate of inflation.

On Tuesday Suzanne Anton, the NPA’s mayoral candidate in Vancouver, fired the first salvo in what she has dubbed “common sense tax measures.” Her austerity plan includes a proposal to return budget surpluses directly to property taxpayers, set a cap on future spending increases and freeze the Mayor’s office budget for three years.

While I support the general thrust of Anton’s pledge, it’s curious that she didn’t also include a promise to ditch annual pay hikes for civic politicians over the next three years.

According to the ICBA poll, a whopping 81% of respondents said they “would support candidates who commit to reduced municipal spending and taxes.” It will be interesting to see if that general sentiment carries through to election day.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on on Twitter @CityCaucus or you can "like" us on Facebook at facebook.com/citycaucus. This column was first published in 24 Hours Vancouver on Thursday, Sept 29th, 2012.

10 Comments

I can see the value of an audit process, but I think this story is a bit of a stretch. An auditor will review the approval process for a transaction, and whether that transaction was accurately recorded and reported. An auditor won't judge the value of an initiative, or get into tax rate questions. That is why we have elected officials.

On a related theme, is there any reason why all information that would be disclosed under a Freedom of Information request is not automatically published to the web? Why do we even need to make the request? Government would be greatly improved by a lot more transparency.

"While I support the general thrust of Anton’s pledge, it’s curious that she didn’t also include a promise to ditch annual pay hikes for civic politicians over the next three years."

Curious? It's pretty self-evident.

" a whopping 81% of respondents said they “would support candidates who commit to reduced municipal spending and taxes.” "

Easy to say you support reducing taxes and spending, but when the services those taxes provide disappear...well, guess who complains the loudest.

I guess my concern is that the Provincial Government will do to Municipalities what they did when they decided TransLink needed better oversight. Or BC Hydro. Or BC Ferries. For some reason, the current Provincial Government seems to have the Midas touch for turning “accountability and efficiency” into cash cows for a few buddies, at the cost of service levels, reliability, and economic sustainability.

Now that you open Pandora's box, yes I would like to look over their spending. Send me the shopping list, including that funny night in Halifax where they all wore yellow hats that Dale wanted to donate to a Vancouver shelter... part of Robertson's platform and pledge to0 eradicate homelessness, of course!
Yes send it over, I want to know.

Oh god, and we're supposed to take an ICBA survey at face value? These folks are the ones that practically froth at the mouth on TV. They're nutso. They make the Fraser Institute look left-wing.

I think a Municipal Auditor General could serve two functions:

-First would be the obvious task of verifying (auditing) the existing spending to make sure it is accurate and correct.
-The second, and in my mind more important task, would be confirming we are getting value for our dollar based on their knowledge and comparable transactions both in the private and public sectors.

We, the great unwashed masses, may be able to pick out the obvious issues, like inauguration balls or pay raises; however, most can’t tell you whether the costs to produce say a building permit is high, low or just right. We need someone in there representing our interests and who understands what the costs should be. In the best case scenario, a politician is there with our best interest at heart, however, he or she doesn’t have the skill set to properly evaluate the effectiveness of the Cities spend.

Good points Paul. I'm all in!

To P&J's points, anyone auditing municipal finances (and I would hope infrastructure) needs to be independent of all levels of government, they should not report to the provincial government. What are the best practices for governance here?

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