Folks there are grappling with a shocking amount of bad spending by their local government, and it’s highlighting our province’s need for a municipal auditor general and the power to recall politicians.
A former bureaucrat with the Thompson Nicola Regional District blew more than $500,000 in taxpayers’ money over five years, racking up charges for things like steakhouse suppers, alcohol and expensive gifts.
The expenses of former Chief Administrative Officer Sukh Gill include a more than $7,000 charge to rent the champagne room at a Whistler bistro.
The charges date from 2015 to 2020 and show that more than $174,000 was spent at coffee shops and restaurants.
Jessica Wallace of the Kamloops This Week newspaper tabulated the bills using freedom of information requests.
One entry shows a visit to Moxie’s restaurant. The tab totalled $3,793 and it includes the description: “All-day meeting, continental breakfast, custom lunch buffet, chicken tortilla rolls, spinach and artichoke dip, goat cheese bruschetta, pop and juice, bottled juice, beer, liquor and wine.”
Many of the receipts are for alcohol, including liquor store gift card purchases.
Another receipt shows that taxpayers bought a board member an 18-karat white gold necklace with a 14-karat diamond as a going-away present. It cost $997.
We only know about this spending because of the outstanding investigative reporting of one local newspaper reporter.
We don’t know how widespread this bad behaviour is, and we don’t yet have the tools to find out.
We need the power to recall local politicians who are doing a bad job between elections and we need a strong office of the Municipal Auditor General to audit and investigate local governments.
We need these tools of direct democracy for two reasons.
First, because it would make government fat cats who are wining and dining each other at our expense think twice about doing so.
Second, because Alberta is about to beat us on this front.
Our neighbours to the East had their own expense scandal at city hall. Calgary councillor Joe Magliocca got caught sticking taxpayers with thousands of dollars in bills for nonsense expenses, including meals with people who hadn’t met with him. The Alberta government moved to give voters the chance to boot misbehaving politicians after that.
While B.C. is currently the only province in Canada that has recall powers at the provincial level, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government just introduced legislation that would enshrine recall powers at both the provincial and local government levels.
Alberta voters will soon have the power to turf politicians from both the legislature and city hall.
British Columbians deserve the same power. This is our money, and these are our communities.
The examples showing that we need these tools are not difficult to find.
Vancouver City Hall just got a Teddy Waste Award nomination from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for blowing more than $316,000 on designer office furniture.
Bureaucrats on 12th Avenue West are now parking their keisters in designer Herman Miller chairs that retail for about $1,500 each. The office chairs were hand-delivered after Mayor Kennedy Stewart cried broke and demanded more taxpayers’ money to keep the lights on during the COVID mess.
It’s that kind of let-them-eat-avocado-toast thinking that drives taxpayers crazy and they need to be able to fight back.
Kris Sims is the B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.