B.C.’s climate action agenda threatened

B.C. Transit will likely fail to meet its provincial ridership targets by 2020 according to a new report by John Doyle, B.C.’s auditor general, issued in early December. This report covered five areas the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) investigated in 2012 and had not issued reports on, or which were ongoing investigations that would continue into 2013.

“My traditional public reports are the most visible output of this Office, but they do not account for all the work we undertake. To be accountable for that work, we summarize the most important findings and recommendations in Summary Report: Results of Completed Projects and Other Matters,” Doyle said in a press release.

Besides B.C. Transit’s ridership mandate under the Provincial Climate Action Charter, the report covered four other areas: the B.C. Police Complaints Commission; the transparency of B.C. ministries’ and Crown corporations’ annual reports; the entrepreneurial arm of School District 40 (SD40) out of New Westminster, called Business Company; and the OAG Investigations Group.

The Police Complaints Commission audit was commissioned by a special committee of the B.C. Legislative Assembly that had been charged with reviewing the police complaints process after an overhaul in 2010. The auditor general investigated a random sampling of complaints and found that complaints were being handled according to the rules of the Police Act. However, in the Police Complaint Audit proper, Doyle described areas for improvement in the timeliness of complaint investigations and formal training of staff in handling complaints.

The Police Complaints Commission may be following all the rules, but provincial ministries and Crown corporations are not. In 2003, the government adopted a set of guidelines to ensure the highest standards of accountability and transparency in the annual reports of B.C.’s ministries and Crown corporations, the B.C. Reporting Principles. Until 2006, the OAG monitored adherence to these principles (at which time many ministries were meeting minimum standards, with Crown corporations typically faring a bit better). It was expected that the agencies would keep progressing and by now be meeting the highest standards. However, in the half-decade since then, organizations have failed to make progress on the B.C. Reporting Principles.

The OAG doesn’t just investigate provincial government issues like B.C. Reporting Principles. Sometimes, at the request of community members, it investigates other governmental matters, like SD40’s Business Company (SD40BC). The business was founded to allow SD40 to conduct fundraising abroad by selling educational knowledge and expertise without SD40 incurring liability and risk. While this arrangement is legal under provincial law, the OAG found a mess: directors on both the school board and Business Company board sometimes serving despite conflicts of interest, with many ways for liability to spill over onto SD40. The OAG made a series of recommendations. These included implementing policies that give clear understanding of potential conflicts of interest and ensuring that the board of education takes a greater hand in the appointment of the board of SD40BC.

Incidents like the one ongoing in SD40 come to the attention of the OAG through suggestions from the public, usually received on the OAG’s website (bcauditor.com). These suggestions are passed to the OAG’s Investigations Group (OAGIG), which looks into them and can recommend taking no action, determine the OAG has no mandate to investigate and refer the suggestion to the appropriate authority (such as the legislative ombudsperson), or recommend that further investigation be pursued. Currently, there are at least two investigations ongoing in the OAGIG, one in the Ministry of Health and one in an unspecified agency. The report is deliberately vague; these investigations are not completed.

For more details, the full report is available at bcauditor.com.

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