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Possible breach of Parliament delays release of B.C. auditor's report

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VICTORIA - A possible breach of Parliament prompted the Speaker of the British Columbia legislature to put a highly-anticipated report from the auditor general on hold.

On Tuesday, a statement from the Speaker said John Doyle's report on the government's on-going carbon neutral initiative would not be released as planned.

"Concerns have been raised in relation to the premature disclosure of the auditor general's carbon report," said the statement. "Since a breach of Parliament may have occurred the report will not be distributed until the Speaker has concluded his discussions with the auditor general.

Doyle issued a written statement after the report's release was suspended.

"It is with disappointment that I must speak on this matter, rather than the content of the report," he stated.

"However, in light of discussions surrounding 'premature disclosure,' I feel I must take the unusual step of clarifying the process by which my independent audits are reported."

Doyle said that under the Auditor General Act he is required to share draft reports with the relevant ministries before they are transmitted to the Speaker.

His office has a long-standing practice of providing briefings to ministers and deputy ministers and representatives of some all-party committees and other "potentially interested Members of the Legislative Assembly," he said.

The Speaker received the report on March 22 and Doyle said he was hopeful it will be released as soon as possible.

Doyle's audit of the Liberal government's carbon neutral initiative has been widely anticipated, with Independent MLA Bob Simpson calling the carbon plan a costly and inefficient method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Simpson said he received an embargoed copy of Doyle's report Monday afternoon.

In the past, Simpson said he has been given pre-briefings on upcoming Doyle reports on the province's forest inventory and biodiversity protection. Simpson said he also received an embargoed copy of one of those reports.

Simpson raised concerns in the legislature earlier this month about an orchestrated attack by the Pacific Carbon Trust on Doyle's office in an attempt to thwart his audit team’s efforts.

He suggested those within the trust engaged third parties in a letter-writing campaign challenging Doyle's credibility on the issue of carbon trading and offset schemes.

Both Simpson and Leonard Krog, Opposition New Democrat attorney general critic, called for the public release of Doyle's audit.

"There is no useful public purpose served by not releasing the report right away," said Krog. "If part of the report is out there, then get the report out and deal with the investigation later."

Krog said he couldn't confirm if some New Democrats had copies of Doyle's report prior to its release date, but "I'm pretty sure we did."

Prior to the report's scheduled release Tuesday, letters obtained by The Canadian Press roundly criticized Doyle's methods of developing the report as "useless," and an attempt to "wilfully misinterpret and misconstrue" the facts about the environmental tax plan.

Critics have called on the Liberal government to scrap the Pacific Carbon Trust, saying it has been almost 99 per cent taxpayer funded — $14 million — forcing schools, hospitals and other public entities to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on carbon credits, while private businesses sell their credits for cash.

But supporters say the trust continues to make strides towards turning the province into one of the world's leading carbon-neutral economies.

The letters appear to undermine Doyle's carbon audit.

A letter from Attorney General Shirley Bond to James Tansey, chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Offsetters Climate Solutions and a University of B.C. associate professor specializing in climate technologies, indicates business concerns about the report.

"Your letter indicates a serious matter related to the audit being undertaken by the Office of the Auditor General," states Bond. "You further say in your letter that it is your view that the report could result in significant financial liability for the province, and you strongly encourage my office to review the report and amend it before it is released."

Bond's response to Tansey's letter does not identify his concerns, but she states she's made Doyle's office aware of the letter.

"I have alerted the auditor general to your correspondence and to the issues that it raises and I am confident that the auditor general will ensure that any actions taken by his office meet the good faith requirements of Section 18 of the Auditor General Act," stated her response.

The act states no legal proceedings for damages may be commenced against the auditor general or others due to omissions or performance of duty, but the act's protections do not apply to anything done or omitted in bad faith.

Another letter amounts to a resignation statement to Pacific Carbon Trust officer Scott MacDonald.

The March 23 letter to MacDonald is from University of Ottawa law Prof. Stewart Elgie, an environmental law expert.

Elgie's letter states he stepped down as an expert adviser for Doyle's carbon neutral audit and has terminated his position.

"It would not be appropriate to share the details of why I have taken this step," states Elgie's letter. "I will simply say that I have not been shown or reviewed any of the (auditor's) draft reports for the past seven months."

"Before that time, the materials I did review indicated that the audit findings were heading in a direction that was inconsistent with the expert advice I provided in several major areas, particularly concerning the Darkwoods project," states the letter.

The Darkwoods Forest Carbon project is a Nature Conservancy of Canada initiative that seeks to market carbon credits generated from the 55,000-hectare Darkwoods Conservation Area in B.C.'s Selkirk Mountains.

The final letter is from David Antonioli, chief executive officer of Washington D.C.-based Verified Carbon Standard, an international company founded to provide quality assurance standards that projects could use to quantify greenhouse gas emissions and issue credits in voluntary markets.

Antonioli's Feb. 22 letter to Doyle — also sent to Premier Christy Clark, Environment Minister Terry Lake and Finance Minister Mike de Jong — outlines his company's frustrations in dealing with Doyle's audit.

"After almost a year of exchanging information with your office, and devoting countless hours of staff time to address your team's misinterpretations of VCS rules and requirements, I am dismayed to conclude that the entire exercise has been useless," states Antonioli's letter.

He said the misinterpretation of regulator surplus by Doyle's office is one of several reasons he had lost trust in the auditor's work.

"However, it is perhaps the most illustrative and demonstrates fully how your team continues to wilfully misinterpret and misconstrue basic facts. Specifically: lack of objectivity ... created controversy where none exists ... ignoring evidence... using elements from entirely different standards."

Antonioli stated he will gladly participate in any review that may result from Doyle's audit.

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