March 13, 2013 - 7:45 PM
"IT JUST DOESN'T LOOK GOOD... THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH IT:" FOSTER
By Marshall Jones
B.C.'s Auditor General has uncovered more financial irregularities in the lease agreement between Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster and the owner of his constituency office who was a financial donor to his campaign and is a family member of his constituency assistant.
In a report released today, John Doyle said new information on Foster's lease agreement—which included $67,000 in renovations paid for in violation of Legislative Assembly policies—shows taxpayers were helping a private business through Foster's office.
Doyle said $51,000 went "beyond the alterations typically made to customize a rental property for the needs of a specific tenant… the Legislative Assembly has reimbursed the landlord for a complete renovation of this building, and not just the mere customization of a pre-existing space."
Foster has already been cleared by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and Foster agreed to repay some of the money—but out of regular payments from his constituency office allowance.
"It was all done according to the rules of the day so there is not a lot to say," Foster said today. "The comptroller paid the bill so he needs to take it up with the comptroller, not with me."
When asked why he chose to rent from a campaign supporter, he said everyone does it, including the NDP.
"If you contact every MLA in this province and ask them who they rent from… they rent from supporters. There is no impropriety there whatsoever."
Doyle did bring up the matter with the house Speaker in 2009 and new information shows the arrangement was anything but typical. Doyle said taxpayer money was used for purchasing and installing a complete forced air heating/cooling system including a 4-ton heat pump and 75,000 BTU furnace, replacing the building’s wiring system, installing vapour barriers in exterior walls and purchasing and installing a new double-paned 18’ X 9’ store front window and new plumbing including gas piping, and painting the building’s exterior.
Doyle said many of those items were well beyond the scope of work in the commercial lease agreement, which also "does not include many of the standard lease terms describing the tenant’s rights and the landlord’s obligations, and instead appears to favour the landlord."
Foster said he negotiated the lease, but had no dealings with the improvements.
Doyle also said the landlord was using the office as its mailing address, creating "the risk that at least a portion of the landlords’ business operations were being carried out in premises paid through public monies," Doyle said.
Foster said today the landlord doesn't do any business out of the office and he wasn't aware the owner was using it as a mailing address. When informed, Foster said he contacted the landlord and the controller to ensure it stopped.
"It just doesn't look good… there is nothing wrong with it," he said.
Doyle originally uncovered the arrangement in his 2009/10 report. He went back to it this year when he got the specific invoices. But he said none of them were timestamped.
"Given that (auditor-general) staff requested these at the time of the audit, this raises serious concerns as to when they were provided and added to the Legislative Assembly’s financial records," Doyle said.
Doyle again wrote to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly seeking answers and didn't get them, he said.
"As a result, it is still unclear as to why the Legislative Assembly paid for this work, or why it obtained reimbursement of these amounts from the member by reducing the funds he was provided each month to run his office to represent the interests of his constituents."
Hear Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster in conversation on taxpayer money spent on his constituency office.