Pick a fight with the auditor general? Great idea, Premier Clark! A real vote-winner!

Environment Minister Terry Lake
VANCOUVER – BC Environment Minister Terry Lake, pictured here in July, 2012, is picking a fight with B.C. Auditor General John Doyle. (CARMINE MARINELLI/QMI AGENCY)

I have a bright shiny loonie in my pocket that I promise to give to whoever can point me to an example of any government anywhere in Canada that wins a showdown with their auditor general. I start from the assumption that, if you are a prime minister or a premier and the auditor general says your government is screwing up, it’s likely best to quietly agree, say you’ll fix the problem and move on, even if you don’t agree, rather than pick a fight with your auditor general. The reasoning here is that voters tend to believe auditors general and they tend not to believe politicians. I fully recognized that there is a great variety in abilities of auditors general across the country and a great variety in politicians but, when these two worlds collide, it matters not and so, I give you this First General Rule of Politics: Auditors General Are Always Right.

And yet, in British Columbia, the B.C. Liberal government of Christy Clark, likely in its final weeks in any event, has decided to essentially declare that B.C. Auditor General John Doyle is incompetent, doesn’t know what he’s doing, and got it all wrong when he concluded that the B.C. government approach to making itself ‘carbon neutral” is not only a monumental waste of taxpayer money it is failing to reach any of the policy objectives that money was supposed to buy.

Doyle wrote three paragraphs in the cover page accompanying his report to the legislature. Here are two of those paragraphs (emphasis mine):

In its 2007 Speech from the Throne, the provincial government announced its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2010. In addition to making capital investments and reducing greenhouse gases, a significant part of its plan was the purchase of carbon offsets.

This audit examined two projects which accounted for nearly 70 percent of the offsets purchased by government to achieve their claim of carbon neutrality: the Darkwoods Forest Carbon project in southeastern B.C. and the Encana Underbalanced Drilling project near Fort Nelson. However, this claim of carbon neutrality is not accurate, as neither project provided credible offsets.

In his two-page “Auditor General Comments”, I draw your attention to this paragraph, the penultimate one of this section, the likes of which I have never seen in more than a decade of covering auditors general reports:

Of all the reports I have issued, never has one been targeted in such an overt manner by vested interests, nor has an audited organization ever broken my confidence, as did the senior managers at [Pacific Carbon Trust, a Crown Corporation] by disclosing confidential information to carbon market developers and brokers. The orchestrated letter-writing campaign from domestic and foreign entities which followed this disclosure demanded considerable staff time, and resulted in the delay of this report. I cannot sufficiently express my surprise and disappointment that a public sector entity, with a fiduciary duty to the people of British Columbia, chose to expend its time and energy in this manner, rather than addressing the concerns raised in the audit – and that they did so with the knowledge of their governing board.

The team of accountants and experts in Doyle’s office set out on this audit with three questions on their mind:

  • Does government take sufficient actions to minimize its greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Does government purchase the required offsets and are they credible?
  • Does government appropriately evaluate and report on the achievement of its objectives?
To answer those questions, the auditors zeroed in on:

The Ministry of Environment’s Climate Action Secretariat (CAS) [which] directs government’s policy actions in the areas of climate change and facilitates the legislated mandate to be carbon neutral [and] The Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) [which] is a Crown corporation with the mandate to purchase quality B.C.-based offsets to help the public sector meet their carbon reduction goals and to help grow B.C.’s low-carbon economy.

And despite attempts at obfuscation by Pacific Carbon Trust, the Crown Corporation, the auditors finally reached the following conclusion:

We concluded that the provincial government has not met its objective of achieving a carbon neutral public sector:

  • Government has established reasonable procedures to allow public sector organizations to determine their greenhouse gas emissions. However, government has not yet established criteria to evaluate whether government as a whole is taking sufficient actions to reduce emissions.
  • Pacific Carbon Trust has not purchased credible offsets.
  • Government is reporting on its efforts to reduce emissions and its progress in achieving a carbon neutral government. However, the PCT has not provided sufficient information in its reporting about the cost and quality of its purchases.

And yet, despite the General Rule I just put forward that, so far as voters are concerned, Auditors General Are Always Right, there was B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake telling reporters on Thursday that :

“We fundamentally reject the auditor general’s conclusion that government has not met its objective of achieving a carbon neutral public sector. The B.C. Government has been carbon neutral since 2010. The audit, I feel, reflects a fundamental disagreement between third party, international accredited experts with a non-expert office of the auditor general team.”

So, just in case you misunderstood because of  Lake’s lawyerly language there, he is saying: Doyle is a dope who doesn’t know the first thing about what he was doing.

The election is in just over 6 weeks. Good luck with that one, Minister Lake!


2 thoughts on “Pick a fight with the auditor general? Great idea, Premier Clark! A real vote-winner!”

  1. I’ll take a dollar next time I see you. The City of Windsor not only picked a fight with their Auditor General, they fired him. After taking nearly 4 years to go through a process to decide whether or not to hire and Auditor General, conducting a search, losing one candidate because they waited more than six months to authorize a contract, we finally got an Auditor General in Windsor. Once hired he began setting up his office and preparing his 3 year audit plan. On the eve of his audit plan being publicity presented, City Council convened an in-camera meeting and fired him. Apparently he was rude, non-cooperative and refused to follow direction. Before firing him, only two City Councillors had actually met the Auditor General. Instead of an Auditor General we now have an out-sourced external audit carried out by an accounting firm. Windsor City Council won, at least for now. The firing is still before the courts and we’ll see what happens in the next election.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *