Opinion

NELSON: Premier Clark is just playing politics

FACE TO FACE: Should the province appoint a municipal auditor general?

During her leadership run, one of Premier Christy Clark’s promises was to establish an office of Municipal Auditor General (MAG) to oversee the operation of B.C.’s municipal governments. This initiative polls well and Ms. Clark hasn’t flip-flopped on this one.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? We’ve all seen examples of seemingly ridiculous expenditures by our local governments. Wouldn’t a municipal auditor general be a good idea?

Maybe, but not the way Ms. Clark is doing it — “to them” instead of “with them.”

The no-consultation, gun-slinging way this decision was made has defined the MAG initiative as adversarial before the outrageous cost of bike lanes has even had a chance to be tut-tutted by an auditor general.

That’s what’s wrong with Clark’s appointing of MAG idea. Its raison d’etre is politics, not accountability.

Were the purpose the reverse, Colin Hansen and others wouldn’t so publicly decry the “high industrial tax rates” charged by municipalities and knowingly imply that something must be done to give industry relief from its municipal tax burden.

Were the purpose accountability, the government would have accepted the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ plea for consultation — as required by the Community Charter, under which municipal governments are mandated.

Premier Clark will likely get away with her autocratic approach, for reasons beyond her perkiness. Recent attacks on the public sector as budget busters will help convince many that unequivocal action is needed. In addition, the statistics my libertarian colleague cites about the “out-of-control” growth of municipal budgets (without any consideration of downloaded and new costs), may also help the public excuse the government’s operating by fiat rather than consultation.

The BC Liberals have always empowered seemingly objective third parties to help fight political adversaries. They employed standardized tests, the Fraser Institute, the Learning Roundtable and the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils in their fight against the BC Teachers’ Federation. They used the comptroller general to bludgeon the Vancouver School Board into submission.

Clark’s search for municipal government accountability is actually just good politics. It jumps on the current anti-public sector bandwagon. It provides a scapegoat for budget woes and future government financial snafus.

Most importantly, it provides a third-party cudgel to use against municipalities that question the provincial political agenda.

Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.

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