Liberals aren't lining up to join auditor general's fan club

Some Liberal legislators don't have a favourable opinion of how the provincial government's top financial watchdog John Doyle is doing his job. This, according to a survey of MLAs exclusively obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request. The survey was completed between February 1 and March 19, representing a snapshot of opinion during that period. Around the same time, the speaker of the legislative assembly launched a controversial review of British Columbia's statutory officers - including the auditor general.

The survey was conducted by Victoria-based market research firm R.A. Malatest and Associates Ltd. as part of three-year-old annual effort by the auditor general office to determine MLAs "knowledge of, and satisfaction with" his services.

In 2009 and 2010, that included recent reports highlighting the need for a comprehensive homelessness action plan, increased oversight of oil and gas sites and improvements in the handling of electronic health records among other issues.

The good news in the survey is 83 percent of Liberals who completed it agreed or strongly agreed the auditor general "provides value to the public" - a 16 point increase over last year. And 65 percent think Mr. Doyle's office has "promoted efficient and actionable government."

But the bad news begins with the fact just 25 of the Liberals' 48 MLAs who were sent that questionnaire filled it out - a 52 percent participation rate. By comparison, 81 percent of opposition MLAs did so, as well as giving the auditor general considerably higher satisfaction marks.

Malatest reports the reasons cited for not participating included "lack of time, that he/she does not participate in surveys of any kind and the MLA feeling his/her participation may not be in appropriate" because of their involvement in or knowledge of the auditor general's work.

The survey also states: 58 percent of participating Liberals agreed or strongly agreed the auditor general's reports are credible, independent and objective; just 52 percent are satisfied with his office's products and services; and only 48 percent think his recommendations appear actionable and appropriate - with most instead expressing a neutral opinion on all three subjects.

Some of the written comments anonymously submitted by government members were also critical of the auditor general. Of the four, one accused his office of having "lost its objectivity and credibility," seeming to "think it is a ministry of Government."

Another described the office as appearing "naive about the political use some make" of the auditor general.

"Olympic costing was an extremely poor report in my mind in that it applied costs to the infrastructure but not residual values," the MLA stated. "All of this gets used politically by opponents of the Olympics and the current government. I cannot think of an accounting principle that does not recognize residual values."

It's against this backdrop that speaker of the legislative assembly Bill Barisoff - who was excluded from the survey - initiated a review of Mr. Doyle and his fellow watchdogs. The four-person panel he assembled was charged with answering questions such as "Does each officer fulfill and adhere to his or her statutory mandate?" and "Do effective mechanisms exist to ensure that activities of each statutory officer are conducted fairly and transparently?"

Among the appointees was Ron Hicks, a former top Alberta bureaucrat who later wrote an academic paper accusing Alberta's former auditor general of overstepping his authority. The panel has completed its work but their report has yet to be made public.

Mr. Barisoff's office didn't respond to an email requesting comment by deadline.

In an interview, University of Victoria political science professor emeritus Norman Ruff, said he found the results of the survey, "disappointing. But I'm sorry to say I'm not surprised. I think for some time now - and it's not just the current administration but it goes back to the Glen Clark administration - the auditor general's reports aren't seen the way they should be: as constructive criticism."

The following is a complete copy of Malatest's aforementioned survey report.

Survey of all MLAs

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