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BC speaker stalling release of auditor general's carbon offset report

British Columbia Auditor General John Doyle is calling on Speaker Bill Barisoff to release the AG's report on carbon neutral government to the public as soon as possible.

The report, expected to be critical of how carbon offsets are assessed in B.C., has come under a preemptive attack from people involved in the carbon trading business.

"Concerns have been raised in relation to the premature disclosure of the Auditor General's carbon report," Barisoff said in a prepared 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 responded with a prepared statement of his own clarifying how his office's audits are released. "Under the Auditor General Act, I am required to share my draft reports with the relevant ministries before they are transmitted to the Speaker," he said.

"In addition, my office has a long-standing practice of providing briefings to ministers and deputy ministers, as well as the chair and deputy chair of the Select Standing Committee on Public Accounts and other potentially interested Members of the Legislative Assembly, ahead of the final report's public release," he said.

Doyle's office has followed the same procedure for many years and it's consistent with his role as an independent officer of the legislature, he said. The report, An Audit of Carbon Neutral Government, was sent to the speaker on March 22 and he's hopeful the speaker will release it to the public as soon as possible, as required by law, he said.

Independent MLA Bob Simpson, who has long been critical of how carbon credits are assessed for the B.C. government's Pacific Carbon Trust, said Doyle appears to have followed his standard procedure ahead of the release of this report and it's unusual that Barisoff would delay it.

"I don't believe he has a discretion and if he does he's stalling a report the substance of which is being challenged in public because of procedural issues," he said. "The procedure issues have nothing to do with the substance of the report."

The PCT takes money from public bodies like schools and hospitals and uses them to buy carbon offsets, usually from businesses, to meet the province's goal of running a carbon neutral public service. Key to the debate is whether or not the carbon emission reductions are additional to what would have happened without the offset money.

Simpson said these projects needed a "sniff test" from someone independent like Doyle and it's not surprising people involved in the offset market feel threatened.

Various international bodies have been scrutinizing carbon offsets and forest carbon sinks like the Darkwoods project in B.C. have been particular areas of concern, he said. "The auditor general of B.C. isn't a voice in the wilderness on this issue."

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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