B.C. Auditor General John Doyle has again blasted Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster over renovations and leasing of his Vernon office.
Foster was the chairman of the committee that voted against rehiring Doyle for a second term as B.C. auditor. Foster did not respond to email messages for comment on Thursday.
In his latest update on legislative expenses, Doyle noted two breaches of the Legislative Assembly's policies: pre-paying for $78,000 in leasehold improvements, later reduced to $67,000; and invoices which weren't date-stamped leaving no record of the date received.
"Given that Office of the Auditor General staff requested these (invoices) at the time of the audit, this raises serious concerns as to when they were provided and added to the Legislative Assembly's financial records," said Doyle.
"The OAG has now completed a review of these invoices, which has raised some new concerns, particularly regarding a sub-group of these expenditures totalling approximately $51,000."These expenditures included, among other things; purchasing and installing a complete forced-air heating/cooling system including a four-ton heat pump and 75,000 BTU furnace, replacing the building's wiring system, installing vapour barriers in exterior walls, purchasing and installing a new double-paned three-by-six-metre storefront window, new plumbing including gas piping, and painting the building's exterior.
"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. Instead, these invoices indicate that the Legislative Assembly has reimbursed the landlord for a complete renovation of this building, and not just the mere customization of a pre-existing space," said Doyle.
A review of the commercial lease agreement showed many of these expenditures appear to go well beyond the items agreed to by the member in that document and fall within the specific responsibilities of the landlord, said Doyle.
"We also identified that the lease agreement entered into by the member does not include many of the standard lease terms describing the tenant's rights and the landlord's obligations, and instead appears to favour the landlord."
Foster claims he didn't do anything wrong but is still repaying the $67,000.
Foster's office was also being used as the mailing address for the landlords, "creating the risk that at least a portion of the landlords' business operations were being carried out in premises paid through public monies," said Doyle.
When this information and other details were forwarded to Speaker Bill Barisoff who authorized the pre-payment, he described it as an "exception" and did not answer all the questions posed by Doyle.
"As a result, 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."
Scott Anderson, the Conservative Party candidate for Vernon-Monashee, said the new information confirms what the Conservatives have been saying all along.
He claimed Ravinder 'Sid' Sidhu, husband of Foster's constituency assistant and the recipient of more than $250,000 in renovation funds and lease payments, was a long-time financial donor to the B.C. Liberals, a Foster family friend, and a long-standing B.C. Liberal appointee to the B.C. Agricultural Land Commission.
"Given the close personal and political relationship between Mr. Foster and the landlord, this seems to go beyond mere sloppiness and ineptitude on Mr. Foster's part," said Anderson.
"Not only do questions remain about what information Mr. Foster offered to the conflict (of interest) commissioner, but now we know that the Auditor General is asking the same questions we originally asked. Mr. Foster cannot simply wave a piece of paper and claim he did no wrong. It's time for him to come clean and tell us exactly what he did do."
The building was originally purchased for $189,000 and the lease payments were twice as high as current market rates in Vernon, said Anderson.
"According to B.C.'s Public Accounts, provincial taxpayers paid more than $260,000 to Mr. Foster's friend and the B.C. Liberal Vernon-Monashee constituency in just three years - from 2009/10 to 2011/12," said Anderson. "That means Mr. Foster's friend's building has not only been structurally renovated, but entirely paid for at taxpayer expense."