FACE TO FACE: Should the province appoint a municipal auditor general?
The idea that the provincial government should establish an auditor-general to monitor municipal finances in B.C. is so totally sensible, so utterly reasonable and so completely necessary that it's hard to believe anyone could be opposed to it.
Nevertheless, shortly after Premier Christy Clark unveiled the plan earlier this summer (a plan, by the way, that she had outlined during her leadership campaign), officials with the Union of B.C. Municipalities were bleating like lambs being led to the slaughter.
They complained that the premier hadn't consulted with them, that the office could encroach on their autonomy and that their every money-related decision might end up being second-guessed.
But while the UBCM listed the many ways it and its members might be adversely affected by the establishment of the new office, it seems to have neglected one vitally important consideration: that a municipal auditor-general would undoubtedly end up serving the vitally important interests of the taxpayers - the very people who, in reality, should be the prime focus of every municipal politician and bureaucrat in the province.
The UBCM, however, gives the impression that it believes its prime mission is to protect its own turf. Similarly, my colleague on the other side of the page expresses the opinion that municipalities' independence should be protected by allowing them to establish their own auditor-general, hired by them alone and reporting to them alone.
One might be tempted to agree with him if not for the abundance of facts that clearly indicate otherwise. For starters, let's not forget that municipal governments exist by way of provincial legislation; therefore, the province is completely within its rights to exercise its authority in this area.
One might even argue that, beyond having the right, the province has the duty to establish the new office.
Furthermore, municipalities haven't exactly shown themselves to be the best stewards of the public purse. A study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business found that government spending at the municipal level had grown at a rate roughly double what one would expect given inflation and population growth.
The taxpaying public has the right to know whether all levels of government, including the level that's closest to home, are spending wisely. A municipal auditor-general will help accomplish this.
An award-winning journalist, a writer with Edmonton's Report Magazine and Toronto's Catholic Insight magazine, and co-host of RoadkillRadio.com, Face to Face columnist Terry O'Neill is a long-time Coquitlam resident who sits on the board of the Coquitlam Foundation and chairs the finance commitee of St. Joseph's Catholic parish.