Editorial: Province seeks the wrong scapegoat

B.C.'s new Auditor General for Local Government is, simply put, a waste of money.

B.C.’s new Auditor General for Local Government is, simply put, a waste of money.

While I’m sure Basia Ruta is well-qualified for the job and is probably a perfectly nice person, the existence of her office is questionable. The province’s decision to establish this post feels like a political move rather than a practical one.

It must stem from a notion that municipal spending is out of control in some parts of the province. While taxpayers have the right to question decisions made by their local and regional elected officials, it’s worth pointing out that the Local Government Act forbids any municipal government in B.C. from running a surplus or deficit, while requiring external financial audits to take place every year.

So a mayor and council might spend a little too much on re-paving streets, for example, but are totally prohibited from running a deficit budget to make it happen.

There’s nothing stopping the province from  running unbalanced books, which has been the case for several years in a row. As a result, Ministry of Finance Public Accounts numbers show the province is now at $51 billion in debt.

The solution? To crack down on local government spending, of course. Go figure.

So what is there for the Auditor General for Local Government to look into in the Upper Columbia Valley?

The $1.3 million Canal Flats arena upgrades springs to mind, as does Invermere’s $150,000 spent to date to preserve the old Canadian Pacific Railway Lodge.

But I doubt Ruta will be able to find much evidence of mismanagement in either case, as revised engineering costs and similar factors can hardly be pinned on poor decisions made by mayors, councils and municipal workers.

While the province continues a long trend of downloading responsibilities for provision of basic services to local governments, the qualified, diligent and community-minded staff of our local governments will continue to work hard to ensure the fees and taxes we pay are put to good use.

—Greg Amos, Valley Echo editor