Saturday, October 10, 2015

North Coast MLA calls Auditor General's office for Local Government a burden on muncipalities

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice
in the Legislature this week
The issues facing local government across BC became some of the focus in the Legislature as MLA's considered some pending changes by the Government to Bill 36, the Auditor General for Local Government Amendment Act

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice made the current discussion on Bill 36,  one of her targets during discussions in the Legislature this week, putting a little Prince Rupert focus into the theme.

That Legislation seeks to more clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the office which has been part of the provincial oversight on Municipal affairs since 2013.

The controversial office has conducted a number of audits on local municipalities across the province in that time, though as a report delivered prior to the recent UBCM gathering offered up, the creation and operation of the office is one that still a number of municipal leaders have concerns about

As part of her contribution to the discussion, Ms. Rice called back to her brief time on Prince Rupert City Council, noting that local governments are stretched and working very hard to make ends meet, at times with a limited tax base to work with.

That lack of tax base, particularly in Prince Rupert was one theme that the North Coast MLA expanded on for the Legislature.

"in Prince Rupert, that’s a really hard tax base to draw upon, considering all major industry is now located on federal port lands. The amount of industrial tax that they are able to gather is limited and has been shrinking, particularly with the loss of our local pulp mill."

Speaking to some of the increased responsibilities that are falling to the municipalities, Ms. Rice also made note of some of the current challenges that the City of Prince Rupert is facing and how adding on the prospect of what she calls unnecessary audits is something that she considers unfair.

"In my community, my local government is tackling provincial matters such as a housing shortage — a lack of, and loss of, B.C. Housing and social housing for those with special needs, those for low-income families and on fixed incomes. They’re addressing a tremendous amount of supports needed for mental health services. 

These are beyond the traditional scope of local governments. My local government would like to tackle issues such as their aging infrastructure, the fact that we have wooden water pipes still, over 100 years old. Bridges — we have wooden bridges. So to burden my community with unnecessary audits from the local government auditor general is really unfair, in my opinion."

Speaking to the debate on the bill on Monday afternoon, Ms. Rice noted that she finds the legislation to be disrespectful to local governments and when the time comes to vote on the Bill, she will be casting her vote against it.  Noting that the New Democratic Party would rather see the AGLG office disbanded and the work placed in the office of the Provincial Auditor General, which would assume the work of municipal audits.

"The legislation’s purpose and effect of increasing government control also reflects the Liberals’ lack of confidence in this office. If the problems with this office rested with the original choice of AGLG, why the need for more government control over this so-called independent body? This further reinforces our proposal that the AGLG be disbanded in favour of the provincial Auditor General assuming the work of municipal audits."

You can read the transcript of her comments in the Legislature here and review her full presentation to the Legislature from the Legislature Broadcast Archive, select the Chamber Video for Monday afternoon, the topic comes up at the 15:15 point.

You can learn more about the Auditor General for Local Government here, the listing of their audit's planned for this year can be reviewed here.

For more items related to the work of the North Coast MLA in Victoria see our archive page here.

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