Auditor general targets MLA renovation costs
Vernon-Monashee’s MLA continues to deny wrongdoing over improvements to his office.
Renovations to Eric Foster’s 31st Avenue office are highlighted in the auditor general’s audit of the legislative assembly’s financial records, which was released Wednesday.
“The bills were submitted and the (legislative) comptroller approved and paid the bills,” said Foster.
“Everything was done according to the rules of the legislative assembly.”
In his report, auditor general John Doyle says he reviewed renovation invoices, which included a furnace, new plumbing and vapour barriers in the exterior walls.
“The scope of the work done under these expenditures seems beyond the alterations typically made to customize a rental property for the needs of a specific tenant,” said Doyle.
“Instead, these invoices indicate the legislative assembly has reimbursed the landlord for a complete renovation of this building.”
Doyle also suggests that some of the expenditures go beyond the items agreed to by Foster in the lease agreement.
“It is still unclear as to why the legislative assembly paid for this work, or why it obtained reimbursement of these amounts from the member by reducing the funds he was provided each month to run his office to represent the interests of his constituents,” said Doyle.
The legislative assembly is recovering $67,000 paid to the landlords by reducing Foster’s constituency allowance each month.
When asked about the specifics of the work done, including a furnace, Foster said, “If the comptroller didn’t want to pay the bill or felt things didn’t qualify, they wouldn’t have paid.”
Foster insists his actions are no different than those taken by other MLAs who renovate.
“Not one extra cent of taxpayers’ funds have to do with the renovations,” he said.
“I don’t have any idea of why I am being singled out.”
Foster would not speculate that Doyle’s report is linked to him being chairperson of a committee that decided not to rehire Doyle as auditor general.
The NDP is raising concerns about Foster’s office upgrades.
“The practice of MLAs has been to get sign-off from the legislative comptroller before leases are signed. Why that didn’t happen in the case of Mr. Foster is a serious concern,” said Shane Simpson, NDP caucus chairperson.
That criticism has led Foster to lash out at the NDP for collecting more than $500,000 from constituency office budgets for party purposes.
“How do they justify taking $200 out of every constituency office every month to send it to Victoria to hire someone to work for the party?” said Foster.
“Mine was disclosed, day one, receipts paid. It (NDP actions) is totally against the rules.”
Simpson has stated the NDP’s centralized fund was approved by the legislative accountant.
There has also been focus on the fact that Foster’s office is owned by the family of his executive assistant. B.C.’s conflict of interest commissioner has cleared him of any conflict.
Foster says he has no regrets over leasing the office.
“I got a good deal and a good office. There has been triple the walk-in business of the old office and I am serving my constituents better,” he said.