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Vancouver hires auditor general to oversee spending of public money

Former assistant auditor general of B.C. Mike Macdonell will lead independent office
Mike Macdonell is Vancouver’s new auditor general, a position newly created under the current city council. Photo courtesy City of Vancouver.

A former assistant auditor general of B.C. has been appointed Vancouver’s new auditor general.

City council has chosen Mike Macdonell to the newly created position at the city, where his role will be to provide independent oversight of how and why taxpayers money is spent.

Macdonell’s appointment was announced Monday via a news release, which included comments from several city councillors, including Coun. Colleen Hardwick, who led council’s drive to create the position.

“The appointment of Mike Macdonell as the inaugural auditor general is a significant milestone for the City of Vancouver,” said Hardwick, who was the chairperson of the recruitment committee. “For the first time, the city will have independent assurance of the stewardship of public funds, joining every other major city in Canada.”

Added Hardwick: “Mike comes with a wealth of knowledge and experience and is up to the challenge. He possesses the qualities that we have been seeking: integrity, discretion, collaborative, approachable; with a strong data-driven and standards focus.”

Macdonell served 23 years in the office of the Auditor General of B.C., where he was responsible for “quality assurance, standards and administration.”

He led performance audits of Crown corporations, ministries and legislative offices in areas ranging from health care, transportation, public utilities, police services, to performance management and reporting, the city’s release said.

“At British Columbia’s Auditor General for Local Government, Mike Macdonell conducted quality control reviews and provided technical advice on all the audits conducted by the office over the eight years it was in was operation,” the release said. “In the private sector, he was a business advisor and leader of BC Public Sector Enterprise Risk Services for a national accounting and advisory services firm.”

Back in 2013, Macdonell was one of four people terminated from the auditor general’s office, according to a report by Andrew Macleod in the Tyee posted April 12, 2013. At the time, Macdonell was quoted as saying, “it was quite a surprise” and was told his dismissal was part of an office restructuring.

Glacier Media made a request Monday via the city’s communications department to interview Macdonnell but had not heard back before this story was posted. His Linkedin page indicates be became a business advisor for MNP’s office in Victoria and Nanaimo from 2014 to 2018 and led MNP’s public sector enterprise risk services in B.C.

He is currently described as a consultant.

A Chartered Professional Accountant, or CPA, Macdonell is a “certified fraud examiner” and holds Bachelor of Arts and Master of Business Administration degrees. As a volunteer, he served six years on the Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of BC and sat on the institute’s practice review and licensing committee, as well as the public practice committee of CPA BC.

Macdonell will begin his job Sept. 7. The release did not say how much he will be paid, or what the budget will be for his office.

Last summer, council received a 63-page research report by the Canadian Audit and Accountability Foundation, which suggested Vancouver could create an independent auditor general’s office on models implemented in Halifax and Ottawa, with up to 10 staff and require an annual budget of $1.1 million to $2 million.

In Ottawa, which has a population of one million and a recent operating budget of $3.4 billion and capital budget of $730 million, auditor general Ken Hughes oversees an office of nine people plus “contractors.”

That office’s annual budget is $2 million, with Hughes’ salary in the $224,000 to $241,000 range, according to information supplied to Glacier Media in July 2020 from Hughes, who said at the time that spending money to set up an office in Vancouver – even during the pandemic – will achieve long-term savings.

He cited an example in Ottawa where his office conducted an audit on a city contract for green waste pick-up. The investigation discovered over-payments of $12 million and found issues with the wording of the contract and manner in which the request-for-proposal process was led.

“City staff renegotiated that contract and were able to reduce some of the loss going forward,” Hughes said. “Certainly for an audit that would have cost my office in manpower something in the order of $100,000 to $150,000 to conduct, we returned at the very least $12 million in actual savings.”

Hughes said audits are proven to pay for themselves and that taxpayers will benefit from an unbiased analysis of how the city conducts its business.