". . . [many] individuals disclosing information are employed by the organization they want us to look into. We point out that while our audit process offers whistleblowers anonymity it does not prevent them facing potential reprisals should those individuals be identified inside their organization. We see the need to protect whistleblowers ." B.C. Auditor General, Dec. 6, 2012
ONE month to the day after Auditor General John Doyle released his report, the other shoe dropped when his job was advertised in Saturday newspapers.
It was dropped by the five-person legislative committee that decides if Doyle will be offered a continuance of his six-year contract. Given the unannounced removal of the carpet from beneath the auditor general's feet, it's reasonable to ask if the Liberals have already decided who they want to replace the burr under their saddles that was Doyle.
Ironically, two of the three B.C. Liberals who form the majority on the committee will not be seeking re-election themselves come May 14.
Doyle's track record is impressive. He took up his appointment in B.C. on Oct. 29, 2007. Before that, as deputy auditor general of Western Australia, he audited 210 agencies and conducted special investigations and performance audits across the WA public sector.
Some British Columbians may not know that while the Campbell-Clark governments pretty much did as they pleased, under Doyle's leadership 115 staffers in his office work tirelessly on our behalf, determined to hold government accountable and to protect our public interests.
Yet now the Liberals appear to be pursuing the retaliatory path for which they've become infamous - they are going after an eminently-qualified man because he has done his job.
This development is made all the worse because, despite his frequent - and justifiable - differences of opinion with the current government's accounting practices, Doyle has been generous and sincere in making note of the co-operation he receives from ministry staffs.
He has also pointed out that "reservations" - professional terminology for accounting flaws - have occurred in 13 of the past 17 years; so that doesn't let the NDP off the hook.
Doyles's recommendation that legislation be drafted to protect staffers who approach him with information about what they believe to be wrongdoing in their workplace, was tantamount to issuing an open invitation to cross-government whistleblowers.
Politicians wouldn't like that; so following as it did more than one critical report, that statement may have been the final straw.
Doyle often emphasizes that he works strictly according to the terms and conditions of the Auditor General Act.
So when obdurate politicians refuse to release the appropriate documents to facilitate his work, he has only three options: capitulate and betray his oath of office and the people of the province; encourage whistleblowers to risk their jobs by sneaking the information into his office, or take the government to court.
To the shame of this government, Doyle was driven to option three when the Liberals refused him access to information about the $6 million in legal fees they paid out to Basi-Virk lawyers in the BC Rail case.
It is bad enough when, in response to queries under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, you and I receive little but blacked out pages. But it's quite another thing when a professional, required-to-be-independent provincial
auditor is treated likewise.
Why, in addition to the existing $6-million bill, should government be allowed to rack up still more millions in legal costs to obstruct that diligent watchdog?
The whole grubby picture, of course, begs the question: What are they hiding?
Is it possible that the legal bills were only, say, $4 million and that the remainder was spent on something else? Or is it possible that the legal bills totalled more than $6 million and that the Basi-Virk team - or someone else - was paid an additional amount from another account?
Do the Liberals not realize that withholding the documents Doyle requested only encourages him - and us - to demand the answers to even more questions?
B.C. is on the downhill run to a provincial election on May 14, but we cannot afford to let this issue slide in the hope that the NDP can "make it all go away" if they win the election.
The deadline for submission of applications for the position of auditor-general is Jan. 25, but my suspicion is the position would not have been advertised unless the Liberals already knew who they want to see in the job.
Although Doyle's tenure is contracted until September/October, should the Liberals sign a legal contract with another individual before they exit the stage, any hope we may have of keeping him around would be slim indeed.
And if Doyle goes down in the dust, can we expect Prime Minister Harper to send his own nemesis at the federal level, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, down the same chute?
We should not sit idly by, waiting to see how things play out. My suggestion is that we deluge the legislative committee with our own letters of application: write the applicant's name as "John Doyle/on behalf of. . . ." fill in our own names, and then stamp the page APPROVED BY THE PEOPLE OF B.C.