January 16, 2013 - 10:07 AM
A controversial decision not to renew B.C.'s auditor general has put Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster in the spotlight.
Foster is the chairperson for the committee that chose to dismiss auditor general John Doyle, who has held the position since 2007. He was also the source of an investigation instigated by Doyle.
The NDP is now pressuring the committee to revisit the decision. In a letter to Foster, Shane Simpson, Vancouver-Hastings MLA, requested he reconvene the special committee to appoint an auditor general in order to reconsider Doyle's dismissal.
"News that the committee did not reach unanimous agreement to retain Mr. Doyle has been met with swift, negative reaction," Simpson said in the letter. "Overwhelmingly, people point to Mr. Doyle’s thorough, objective analysis and constructive advice that is almost always broadly supported."
"The official opposition, independent MLAs, and constituents support retaining Mr. Doyle for a second term based on his exemplary performance over the past six years."
Doyle's dismissal might not have stirred up so much debate had Foster not been the source of an audit enacted by Doyle for a renovation of his Vernon office.
According to press releases from members of the Conservative party, renovations to Foster's constituency office cost far more than they should have, and were further complicated by the relationship of the building's landlord with the Liberal party.
In a release put out Jan. 15, Conservatives demanded Foster "tell the whole truth" about what happened.
Leader of the BC Conservatives John Cummins, doesn't understand why Foster submitted expense claims of $78,000 in 2009 for the renovations when the current assessed value of the building is $187,100. He says taxpayers paid $67,000 and believes the claims were clearly out of proportion to the valuation of the premises.
Conflict has also arisen from the fact the building is owned by Foster's constituency assistant, Min Sidhu's family, who are affiliated with the Liberal Party. Cummins says Sidhu's husband is a long-time financial donor to the BC Liberals and a veteran BC Liberal appointee to the Agricultural Land Commission.
In the Jan. 15 release, Conservatives say the property and building were purchased by the Sidhus just days before voters went to the polls. Foster was elected BC Liberal MLA for Vernon-Monashee, and promptly announced he was moving his office from the Sun Valley Mall to an undisclosed site—the newly acquired Sidhu property. Foster was quoted by Kiss FM as justifying the move with convenience to the public. "It (would be) a little more accessible to people. That's the only reason."
Cummins' colleague BC Conservative party candidate for Vernon-Monashee Scott Anderson also has questions. He's demanding Foster explain why there is no record of a Vernon municipal building permit issued for renovations at his Vernon office between Jan. 1 2007 and Jan. 1 2011. He says the expensive renovations must have involved a major structural overhaul and surely required a permit, though one has not been produced.
"Can Mr. Foster explain why he believes $67,000 for office renovations is a responsible expenditure of taxpayer funds?" Anderson said in a release.
Critics are suggesting something is fishy with Foster's renovation expenses, and with his relationship with the building's landlord. But that's not all.
It seems they're wondering if John Doyle's investigation into the matter might have gotten him fired.
In a Times Colonist article by Les Leyne, Foster claims to have settled a conflict-of-interest concern raised by Doyle. But he says the issue put to him was the fact the landlord, who has donated money to the Liberals, was related to Foster's assistant. Foster says he didn't know about a series of letters between Doyle and the legislature detailing concern for the financial aspects of the renovation.
Leyne speculates the issue is not the renovation or the convoluted marriage ties, but "the fact that the only MLA specifically criticized by the auditor general wound up chairing the committee that decided not to offer Doyle a second term."
Under fire from the Conservatives to expose the details of his office renovation, and from the NDP to revisit Doyle's dismissal, Foster is facing some major accusations.
The situation has unleashed criticism on the Liberal party as a whole.
"British Columbians have learned that BC Liberals dislike public scrutiny of their activities and expenditures," Cummins said in a release.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013