Liberals, NDP trade jabs over value of B.C.’s new municipal auditor general

But both parties agree that fiscal accountability will be a key issue in May’s election

Bill Bennett, minister of community, sport and cultural development: “we’re trying to point out to the public that the NDP don’t have the same level of commitment to sound discipline and fiscal management that the BC Liberals do”

With B.C.’s May 14 election on the horizon, the BC Liberals are looking to score points with voters by touting the NDP’s non-support of the new auditor general for local government (AGLG).

The office of B.C.’s first AGLG, Basia Ruta, opened January 17 in Surrey.

Bill Bennett, minister of community, sport and cultural development, is leading the attack for the Liberals. He said his party is trying to use the issue to cast doubt on the NDP’s commitment to fiscal accountability.

“We’re trying to point out to the public that the NDP don’t have the same level of commitment to sound discipline and fiscal management that the BC Liberals do,” he told Business in Vancouver.

“Despite the fact that we have made mistakes over our 12 years, we’re still one of only two provinces in the country with a triple -A credit rating, and we’ve met nine of 10 budget targets over the years.”

Bennett argued that the NDP’s non-support of the AGLG, coupled with NDP leader Adrian Dix’s opposition to balanced-budget legislation, demonstrates the opposition party’s lack of discipline on spending.

“They just don’t have the same commitment to it [as the BC Liberals do]; they don’t think it’s as important.”

Harry Lali, NDP critic for community and rural development, gave the party’s rationale for not supporting the establishment of an AGLG.

“First of all, nobody was asking for [an AGLG] aside from those people who put Christy Clark into the premier’s chair,” he said, referring to a push from the province’s business community, including the BC Chamber of Commerce, to have the office established.

He also launched a counterattack on the Liberals’ accusation that the NDP doesn’t support value-for-money audits.

“For Bill Bennett and the BC Liberals to say that the NDP does not want a value-for-money audit, when that’s what we’ve been asking for on BC Place and they refuse to do it, is the ultimate of hypocrisies,” Lali said.

Both ministers agreed that fiscal accountability will be a key election issue this spring.

Bennett called it “central.”

“The economy will be the biggest topic overall in the election, and B.C. is positioned relatively well in the world right now,” he said.

“I think that the debate will be, are we going to be better off if we go for that change that people are tempted to go for and go to the NDP, or will we in fact be more likely to maintain our strong economy and job creation if we stay with the BC Liberals.”

Lali said fiscal accountability “is always an important issue in every election, not just this election.”

He argued that the NDP can win electors’ support on the topic and said that the NDP’s track record on fiscal accountability is “far superior” to that of the Liberals. •

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