As I have written about before, Vancouver City Councillor Colleen Hardwick has proposed a most important and vital reform of city governance: that, like every other major city in Canada, Vancouver should appoint a completely independent Auditor General.
The function of this position is NOT to ensure that monies are being spent legally — that is the job of the outside auditor which every City is obliged to have. Rather, the function of the Auditor General will be to ensure that Vancouver city taxpayers are getting value for the taxes they pay, that City departments are being run efficiently and are actually fulfilling the tasks that Council sets for them. The proposed budget for this new position of about one million dollars a year is an infinitesimally small percentage of Vancouver’s almost $2 billion annual budget and, if other cities’ experience is any guide, will pay for itself several times over in savings and efficiencies identified.
This Motion is to come before City Council next Wednesday and it seems to many of us in the City that there is an open and shut case for such a position, especially as Vancouver is one of the last big cities to make such an appointment. Such positions have proved both successful and indeed invaluable elsewhere. However, there is resistance to this Motion; partly from the entrenched city bureaucracy that will be the focus of the Auditor General’s work; after all, none of us like to have someone looking over our shoulder while we do our work. One might hope that they will understand in time that more autonomy not less comes with transparency and a proven track record of effective spending.
The opposition from certain Councillors are for reasons that are far less clear. Some Vancouver Green councillors, for example are said to be opposed to the Motion because, according to them, it is disrespectful to the City staff. Nonsense. I ask everyone to read motionb6 and show me where disrespect is shown to staff. These Councillors, apparently, would prefer to refer this to staff for their opinion. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you think a completely unbiased assessment is likely to result from such a referral.
Vision Vancouver — whom the electors of Vancouver firmly and decisively removed from office at the last election — often used a referral to staff to minimize, significantly delay, or even bury for ever Motions they didn’t like. Many of us assumed that a new Council would be different. We hope that is the case here.
But, perhaps they all need to be reminded that, while City staff do deserve respect, the taxpayers of this City deserve it even more.