Last week’s announcement that the province would create a municipal auditor general department is good news for taxpayers around the province.
Any move to make our public bodies more accountable, even at the civic level, is a way to help ensure that they follow a closer path to the private sector when it comes to keeping expenses in check.
Liberal cabinet minster and Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA Ida Chong said the oversight body would be good for small municipalities – those with 5,000 residents or less – that don’t have the resources to undertake such audits.
But there is a real opportunity for a municipal auditor general to inspect the spending habits in larger jurisdictions such as Saanich and Victoria, and even mid-sized municipalities such as Langford, Oak Bay and Esquimalt.
From constant increases in commercial and residential property tax by more than the rate of inflation and a shocking rise in six-figure administrator salaries to eyebrow-raising benefits given to union employees – emergency services personnel and otherwise – there are plenty of expenditures and decisions on which taxpayers would love to get an outside opinion.
Taking the work of the provincial auditor-general as an example, it’s clear such bodies have no legislative powers. What they do have, however, is the ability to make public any discrepancies or inappropriate expenditures, which ultimately fall on the shoulders of the politicians who gave them final approval.
The threat of having their actions publicly criticized will hopefully provide enough motivation to prompt our elected officials, as well as the employees who are guided by their decisions, to take a closer look at how they spend taxpayers’ money.
Navel-gazing is never a bad thing. And at a time when the public will be faced with helping pay for an LRT system, sewage treatment and a new Johnson Street bridge, the status quo just isn’t good enough.