IntergrityBC’s Dermod Travis. File photo

Integrity matters

Column: Resolutions to make 2019 B.C.’s year of transparency

Columnist Dermod Travis proposes a few New Year’s resolutions for B.C.’s political class

It’s that time of year again to propose a few New Year’s resolutions for B.C.’s political class, and this year there’s a bit of a theme to the resolutions: transparency. No ill can come from it and it will fit into most holiday budgets to boot.

First up: allow individuals who are the subject of an inquiry, or investigation, to have the right to waive their right to privacy and thereby free government from any constraints it may feel over discussing a matter of public import.

These next two – with a nod to Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday – could be considered as the “all we want are the facts” resolutions.

If you’re the minister responsible for a publicly-owned utility, say B.C. Hydro, and one of its senior executives tells you it’s sunny outside, you’d be well-advised to find a window and check for yourself.

Case in point: in a recent financial report the utility “notes that 493 (capital projects) have been delivered over the past five years at a cost of $6.9 billion – roughly 0.4 per cent over budget overall,” which sounds impressive, until you ask for the list and ask again and again and again.

Excluding its information technology fiasco, known as SAP, B.C. Hydro completed 15 capital projects over the last five years, at a total cost of $4.9 billion or $435 million over the first estimate, before that first estimate became a revised first estimate.

In order to meet its boast, Hydro would have needed to bring in the other 478 projects under budget by roughly 20 per cent.

Don’t expect to see a list from them any time soon.

This next one is well-illustrated in a recent article by Richard McCandless from B.C. Policy Perspectives.

McCandless notes that the Saskatchewan Auto Fund has released its second quarter results. It’s a 30-page report. He contrasted that with the Insurance Corporation of B.C.’s second quarter “notional report.” It was one page.

Thinking out loud here, but wonder whether ICBC would have become the dumpster fire it has if politicians and the public had been given all the facts as the fire progressed through the wallets of B.C. drivers?

Likely a bad time to point out that the Saskatchewan Auto Fund is profitable and hasn’t asked for a rate increase in four years. Manitoba and Quebec’s public auto insurers are profitable too.

Speaking of auto insurance, just because your cousin Al in Ontario pays less for insurance than you do isn’t sufficient evidence to dismiss every inter-provincial study ever done on auto insurance rates.

Since benches are likely a local government responsibility across B.C., it’s a good time to let freshly-minted councils know that benches are for sitting, but benchmarks are for measuring performance.

So which city will resolve to be the first in the province to join the Canadian Municipal Benchmarking Network?

Founded in the last century (1998), as the the Ontario Municipal CAO’s Benchmarking Initiative, MBN Canada bills itself as “a partnership between Canadian municipalities who believe in the power of data to inspire accountability, transparency and continuous improvement in the delivery of services to their communities.” That can’t be a bad thing.

The organization publishes an annual performance measurement report comparing the performance of participating municipalities across 37 service areas – from accounts payable to drinking water – “to foster and support a culture of service excellence in municipal government by creating new ways to measure, share and compare performance data and operational practices.”

Don’t crash their website signing up.

This next one is dedicated to the minister responsible for B.C.’s freedom of information Minister of Citizens’ Services Jinny Sims and all her predecessors in the job: if you did it in government don’t criticize it in opposition and if you criticized it in opposition don’t do it in government.

It’s called a duty to document for a reason, not documents optional.

This resolution should be common sense by now, at least I hope.

Mail-in ballots should go the way of the dodo bird for anything more important than a new dog park (no offense to dogs intended).

Finally, Happy New Year and here’s hoping 2019 has a lot less of 2018 in it.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

READ MORE: Culture of entitlement at B.C. legislature keeps going and going

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