I never understood why then-Premier Gordon Campbell hired John Doyle as BC’s Auditor General in 2007. Was it for show? Was he under the illusion Doyle could be controlled? A deputy A G in Australia with a reputation as a thorough, tough defender of the public interest, Doyle seemed like a poor fit for an administration built on secrets and shady accounting practices – as he would soon discover.
Doyle’s imminent departure, after a special legislative committee decided recently not to renew his six-year contract, is less surprising, but comes a great disappointment, nonetheless.
Throughout his time serving the province, John Doyle has been a bloodhound hot on the trail of myriad multi-billion dollar scandals emanating from behind the closed doors of the Campbell-Clark government. From failed forestry policies and bogus accounting at BC Hydro, to uncovering runaway MLA expenses and tens of billions of dollars of hidden taxpayer liabilities, Mr. Doyle has had the public’s back from day one.
From his very first report – a scathing indictment of Liberal-led changes to tree farm licence regulations which drew a bizarre, foaming-at-the-mouth response from Minister Pat Bell, Doyle hasn’t been afraid to plant his shovel in the dunghill of BC Liberal policies.
Doyle took aim at the government’s forestry policy again in 2012, finding that its incompetent timber supply management over the past decade has severely undermined the future of BC’s forestry industry. “The audit found that the ministry has not clearly defined its timber objectives and, as a result, cannot ensure that its management practices are effective,” a statement from Doyle’s office noted. “Furthermore, existing management practices are insufficient to offset a trend toward future forests having a lower timber supply and less species diversity in some areas.” And that was putting it politely.
Doyle’s most potentially explosive project is the ongoing investigation into the secretive decision by the Liberals to break with government policy and pay the $6 million legal bills of of Dave Basi and Bobby Virk, following their guilty pleas in connection with the BC Rail trial.
Among all of Mr. Doyle’s impressive oeuvre, we at the Common Sense Canadian have been most intrigued by his investigations into BC Hydro, secretive private power contracts, and a massive slush fund of hidden taxpayer obligations in the form of public-private-partnership (P3) contracts related to new infrastructure (boondoggles like the ice block-dropping Port Mann Bridge).
As Doyle discovered, by 2011, the Liberals had stashed over $80 Billion in taxpayer commitments above and beyond the provincial debt (which they’ve also lifted by some $20 Billion during their tenure), by classifying them as contractual obligations instead of conventional debt. That figure includes some$53 Billion in reckless, overpriced, unnecessary, completely secret private power contracts. To the taxpayer concerned about the health of province’s finances, it makes little difference what you label it. The plain fact is the BC Liberal government has jacked up your long-term liabilities by something like$100 Billion in just a decade. All while crowing about their fiscal reliability and economic prowess.
It is also worth noting that the Liberals have never once received a passing grade from Doyle’s office on their annual financial report.
The NDP expressed outrage at Doyle’s ouster, with Caucus Chair Shane Simpson saying on the announcement, “I think it’s petty and it’s vindictive and I think it reflects a government that doesn’t have confidence in its own leadership style and its own management.” I wonder, though, if privately they too aren’t breathing a sigh of relief, knowing they won’t be under his all-seeing magnifying glass when they take the reins in Victoria this May.
Interestingly, Doyle is not the only public watchdog in this country hired by tight-lipped leaders, only to become the bane of their existence. Other examples include Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and Canadian Auditors General Sheila Fraser and her replacement Michael Ferguson, who together shot down Stephen Harper’s F-35 program.
Whatever the reason for pushing out such an effective civil servant (we’ll never know because the decision was made in secret, naturally!) Doyle’s departure is a tremendous loss for the BC taxpayer and should cause every citizen to question this government’s motives as we head into a provincial election.
John Doyle did his level best to lift the veil on the most secretive administration in this province’s history. Now, just imagine how they’d behave without him peering over their shoulder.