Penticton MLA and Speaker of the House Bill Barisoff (right) with Premier Christy Clark and Lieutenant Governor Steven Point. As Speaker

Penticton MLA and Speaker of the House Bill Barisoff (right) with Premier Christy Clark and Lieutenant Governor Steven Point. As Speaker

Auditor’s report leads to call for Barisoff’s resignation

Conservative leader says Speaker of the House exhibited a lackadaisical attitude towards the misuse of taxpayers' funds

Bill Barisoff figured prominently in a scathing report from B.C.’s auditor general that highlighted “significant concerns” about the provincial legislature’s finances and prompted a call for the Penticton MLA to resign.

John Doyle’s report, issued last week, found the legislative assembly in Victoria is “falling well short” of meeting basic financial management practices and does not even produce annual financial statements, contrary to a 2007 recommendation from his office.

While not mentioned by name in the report, Barisoff is the Speaker of the House and responsible for the day-to-day operation of the legislature and its $63 million annual budget, and he also chairs the management committee that oversees that budget.

Among the issues Doyle found were: shoddy bookkeeping that showed a $133 million overdraft in a bank account while a bank statement showed $0 because deposits hadn’t been noted; improperly recorded expenses and transition payments to former MLAs; and a lack of documentation to verify MLAs’ travel expenses.

Barisoff, the two-term Speaker, said measures were underway to address some of the problems identified in 2007 even before the release of Doyle’s new report. He said the auditor general who preceded Doyle has been hired to help straighten out the books, the committee is in the process of hiring an internal auditor, and it has also retained an accounting firm to spell out new rules for the legislative comptroller.

“Could we have done this better? Yes. Could he have done it quicker? Probably. But we’re trying to work through it. That’s why we’ve hired some outside expertise,” Barisoff said.

Doyle’s report also mentions he wished to audit the $119,000 annual allowances provided to individual MLAs to operate constituency offices, but was asked by the Speaker to hold off.

Barisoff explained that the bulk of each MLA’s allowance is spent on staff wages, and in a one- or two-person office, the release of detailed financial information could reveal how much those workers are paid and thereby violate their privacy. He said the committee is considering a model where all MLAs’ expenses are categorized and lumped together to get around the privacy issue.

Barisoff allowed that the auditor general’s report caused “a little bit of an embarrassment, but sometimes those kinds of things make the whole program better in the end.”

The legislative management committee was scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the report and build a plan to expedite its response to Doyle’s concerns.

On Monday, B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins called for Barisoff, a Liberal, to resign because the Speaker “failed to safeguard public monies.”

“Not only has he failed to implement recommendations to improve accountability that were made by the auditor general five years ago, he has exhibited a lackadaisical — almost negligent — attitude towards the use or misuse of taxpayers’ funds,” Cummins said in a press release.

First elected in 1996, Barisoff hasn’t yet indicated if he’ll run again in the May 2013 election, but said he will announce his intention by the end of August.