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New Vancouver auditor-general wants office to serve as ‘honest broker’ for taxpayers

Mike Macdonell’s first day on the job was Sept. 7
Mike Macdonell is Vancouver’s new auditor general, a position newly created under the current city council. Photo courtesy City of Vancouver.
The city’s new auditor general says he wants his office to serve as an “honest broker” for taxpayers as it begins to conduct audits of various city functions that could bring both bad and good news.

In his first public address since beginning his job Sept. 7, Mike Macdonell told members of city council’s auditor general committee Sept. 17 that it was important to report all aspects of how the city operates.

“The challenge that auditors face is that there’s an expectation that every audit they have is going to have a long list of opportunities for improvement,” he said in the virtual meeting.

“The challenge with conveying what could always be perceived as bad news is that rather than reinforcing confidence in the institutions of government, it can have the opposite effect.”

Added Macdonell: “So I really want this office to be seen as an honest broker. And if we come across nothing but positive findings, I will be very happy to report that with an equal degree of vigour and energy as I would report findings that suggest a need for improvement.”

Macdonell, 58, is the city’s first-ever independent auditor general. A chartered accountant and certified fraud examiner, he spent 23 years in the provincial office of the auditor general.

He also worked on contract for the office of the Auditor General for Local Government, which permanently closed in March. More recently, he worked as a consultant.

He emphasized during his presentation, which largely focused on setting up his office and hiring staff over the next 100 days, that he is “not the story, the work is the story.”

Macdonell gave no indication what topics he wants his office to explore, but was intrigued by Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung’s mention of whether development cost levies are providing good value for taxpayers and whether the city is properly managing its urban forest.

“Those all sound like excellent potential topics,” he said

At the same time, he added, creating a new team that hasn’t worked together will likely mean the first few audits will be less involved.

“It’s important that we learn to walk before we run,” he said. “So my thought would be is that our first few topics will not necessarily the most complicated.”

A final budget hasn’t been finalized for his office.

Council received a 63-page report last summer by the Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation that suggested Vancouver could create an independent auditor general’s office on models implemented in Halifax and Ottawa.

That could mean up to 10 staff and require an annual budget of $1.1 million to $2 million.

Glacier Media conducted a wide-ranging interview with Macdonell in August, in which he answered questions about how his office will maintain its independence from the city and his position on public input regarding audit topics.

You can read it here.

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