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BC committee seeking to replace auditor general John Doyle

VANCOUVER - British Columbia auditor general John Doyle -- whose investigations into payments related to the BC Rail corruption trial and other allegations of financial mismanagement have routinely embarrassed the governing Liberals -- will be replaced after a legislative committee declined to reappoint him.

A special legislative committee published newspaper advertisements on Saturday and Sunday seeking candidates for the auditor general position, with a deadline of Jan. 25. Doyle's six-year term is due to expire later this year.

The deliberations of the committee are confidential, but the Opposition New Democrats spent the weekend affirming their support for Doyle and strongly hinting that any resistance to Doyle's re-appointment came from the Liberals.

Liberal committee member Eric Foster declined to comment on why Doyle wasn't re-appointed or who was behind it.

"The committee is required by legislation to have unanimous decision for re-appointment," Foster said in an interview.

"It's all in-camera, and I can't talk about how the votes went in any shape or form."

Foster said it's not uncommon for auditors general to serve only a single term.

"I don't think this is in any way different than what's gone on in the past."

NDP caucus chair Shane Simpson, who is not on the committee, suggested the Liberals were simply getting rid of one of their critics. He said he was under the understanding that Doyle had re-applied for the job.

"I think it's petty and it's vindictive and I think it reflects a government that doesn't have confidence in its own leadership style and its own management," Simpson said in an interview.

"Instead, they lash out, and that is what this appears to be."

Doyle started his term as B.C.'s auditor general in October 2007, after serving as a deputy auditor general in Australia.

Doyle's most high-profile investigation is his ongoing examination of the government's decision to pay the $6-million legal bills for two former ministerial aides, Dave Basi and Bobby Virk, who pleaded guilty to leaking information related to the sale of BC Rail. He is currently fighting the provincial government in court to obtain files related to that payout and others.

Other work has included a report last year that criticized financial accountability in the legislature, an investigation that revealed a lack of resources in the environmental assessment process and a report into the deferral of expenses at BC Hydro. Last month, he released a report that called on the government to introduce whistleblower protection for public servants.

Simpson said Doyle's work was beyond reproach.

"He's done a great job in terms of his work as a watchdog and I think he's really served the public interest very well," he said.

"The reality is, if you look back, the government has adopted the vast majority of recommendations that the auditor general has made. It's not like he was making recommendations that were being rejected by government."

However, Simpson said Doyle will stay on past this year's provincial election, set for May 14, and he expects the BC Rail investigation to continue.

Simpson said it's not exactly clear when Doyle's replacement will take over. Doyle was appointed in the summer of 2007, but he didn't start the job until the end of October. Simpson said there is some debate whether Doyle's term ends on the same date he was appointed or when he took office later in the year.

James Keller reports for the Canadian Press.

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