It was just two years ago that B.C.’s first-ever Auditor General for Local Government (AGLG) set up shop.
The vision was an idealistic one, implemented by Premier Christy Clark on the heels of her whirlwind campaign and landslide victory in the November 2012 provincial election.
Basia Ruta, at the time, was heralded as the Ontario chartered accountant and senior federal bureaucrat (she has worked in the federal Auditor General’s office and was chief financial officer for Environment Canada) who was going to lead the way improving local government efficiency and effectiveness.
In an interview with The Valley Echo back in February 2013, Ruta said that while her office didn’t have the resources to audit every one of B.C.’s almost 200 communities, she was going to do her best to visit as many as she could — including the Columbia Valley.
“Then you communicate the findings and based on the findings you make recommendations, and so that’s basically the flavour of it,” Ruta explained, adding her mandate was the first of its kind in Canada and “should give confidence to everyone that there is a systematic approach.”
But everything has come to a head for Ruta in recent weeks. She refused to co-operate with an audit of her office launched in response to allegations of an inefficient and unhappy workplace; she’s been under fire in the legislature for having produced just one report in her two years as AGLG; then days after Ruta issued two more reports with promises of completing 18 by the end of the year, the province announced on Monday, March 23rd that Ruta was being dismissed from her job with no severance pay.
When the role of AGLG was first announced, critics complained about an extra layer of costly bureaucracy, but the Union of B.C. Municipalities eventually endorsed it after local politicians were assured they wouldn’t lose autonomy and there would be no costs passed on to local governments to run the auditor’s office.
According to NDP local government critic Selina Robinson, the debacle has cost the provincial government more than $5 million so far — an ironic twist to an initiative that was intended to help local governments cut down on wasteful spending.