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Slammed by auditor, legislative committee changes how it does business

Christine McAvoy/The Globe and Mail

For the first time, the secretive committee that manages the B.C. legislature is opening its meetings to the public.

The move, announced Tuesday, is among a series of responses by the legislative assembly management committee to a scathing audit of its operations by the B.C auditor-general that was released last week.

John Doyle raised concerns about "significant deficiencies" in basic management at the legislature so severe that he was unable, for the first time in five years as a watchdog, to draw any conclusions about a target of an audit.

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The committee met behind closed doors Tuesday, discussing the auditor-general's report for most of the afternoon.

As the meeting ended, the committee announced its response to the audit, which prompted John Cummins, the Leader of the B.C. Conservatives, to call for the resignation of the Speaker of the legislature.

Bill Barisoff, however, declined to quit, saying he wanted to fix the problems, which include poorly managed MLA travel expenses as well as unreconciled bank accounts at the legislature, which has a $63-million annual budget.

Other measures announced by the committee on Tuesday include the expenses of MLAs being posted online, and bring on two new staffers to enhance financial controls at the legislature.

There's also going to be a newly hired executive financial officer.

"What we've done today is bring the legislature into the 21st century, and it's long overdue," said NDP MLA John Horgan, a member of the bipartisan committee.

"The crisis of the auditor's report highlighted the need for transparency."

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Fellow committee member Shane Simpson, another NDP MLA, said the hope is that transparency will help prevent some of the problems that prompted the criticism of Mr. Doyle.

Meetings are to be quarterly and recorded in Hansard like other committees of the legislature. The option of retreating to in-camera sessions will be limited.

"The committee has not functioned the way it should, which is part of what created the difficulties we found ourselves in," Mr. Simpson said.

Mr. Doyle participated in the meeting by conference call and has agreed to meet with the committee in September.

Mr. Cummins said, based on its promises, the committee appears to be "contrite" about the situation.

"They're asking forgiveness and moving ahead in the only way they can given their inaction," he said.

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"They're credible proposals. It remains to be seen what the follow-through will be."

The first of the new open-door meetings is expected to be held at the end of August.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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