We rarely seem to hear about spending scandals and wasted money in municipal governments. Why is that?
Is it because municipal politicians are more careful with tax dollars, or are better money managers than their provincial and federal counterparts?
I don’t think so.
Municipal spending scandals happen, but they are simply more likely to be hidden from inquisitive eyes. Unlike other levels of government, municipal governments generally don’t have formal opposition parties whose main job it is to scrutinize what the government is doing. Another big thing that helps bring transparency at the provincial and federal levels is the auditor general position.
Every year, an auditor general — an independent, expert civil servant — and his or her team examine how the government spends money. They issue a report that tells everyone where the government is doing well and where it isn’t when it comes to spending habits.
But wait, unbeknownst to many British Columbians, there actually is an auditor general responsible for looking into the spending of municipal governments in our province.
According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Auditor General for Local Government was created two years ago, has spent nearly $5 million in taxpayers’ money and has published just one measly audit of one tiny rural municipality.
Now there’s a spending scandal — $5 million for one report.
In November, we are electing new mayors, councillors and school trustees for four years. It would have been useful for reports on how our money is being spent in the Lower Mainland. That sort of information is vital to helping voters make up their minds as to whether their councils have been governing wisely or wasting money.
But instead of transparency, we have a brick wall. For example, voters actually have no idea if Vancouver is making smart decisions on sewers or if Richmond is paying employees too much.
And what makes it worse is this lack of information is deliberate. Back in March, the provincial minister responsible for the Auditor General for Local Government actually said that no reports would be released in the run-up the civic elections – because they were “respecting local governments.”
What about respecting taxpayers?
It’s time for some reports from the Auditor General for Local Government – let’s get some value for the money we are spending on her office.