The Crown corporation Pacific Carbon Trust was part of an "orchestrated campaign" that has delayed his report on carbon neutral government, said auditor general John Doyle.
"We've had great difficulty getting this report to the publication stage," Doyle told The Tyee in an interview. "I'm talking about the number of letters and what I call the 'corporate immune system' pushing back on the audit team."
While working on the report, which was to examine the carbon offsets the PCT purchases to make the provincial government carbon neutral, Doyle's office received many letters on the subject, he said. The audit team took the letters into consideration and responded to them, but found nothing in them that would change the conclusions of the report, he said.
"We noticed a lot of the letters had similar themes within them," said Doyle. The team asked for certain files as part of the audit and discovered an "orchestrated campaign" to push back against the audit with the apparent strategy of trying to delay its publication, he said. "The longer they delay it, the less likely they have to face the consequences of what may be in the report."
The PCT was party to that campaign, he said, adding he could not share further details as the matter is touched on in the body of his report.
Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson said during question period on March 7 that he had evidence from a freedom of information response of an "active letter-writing campaign" involving the PCT aimed at undermining Doyle's report.
Calls to the PCT were not returned.
Normal process, says Doyle
Doyle said he delivered An Audit of Carbon Neutral Government on March 22 to Speaker Bill Barisoff who is required by law to release it as soon as possible.
Barisoff today announced he is delaying distribution of the report. "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."
The speaker's statement, which said he wouldn't be responding to questions on the matter, provided no details of the alleged breach.
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 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.
In an interview he said he followed the same procedure with this report that he has with every other report for six years and that his predecessors also followed.
Preemptive attack letters
The breach Barisoff was talking about may, however, have been elsewhere.
The Canadian Press reported yesterday morning that it had obtained three letters from carbon-reduction experts who raised concerns about the report.
Doyle said the letter writers were responding to a report they were yet to see, unless somebody has breached parliamentary privilege and shared it with them. That would be something for the speaker to investigate, but also would be an argument for releasing the report immediately, he said.
The letters leaked to CP included: one from Attorney General Shirley Bond to James Tansey, chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Offsetters Climate Solutions; one from University of Ottawa law Prof. Stewart Elgie to the PCT's Chief Executive Officer Scott MacDonald; and one to Doyle from David Antonioli, the CEO at Verified Carbon Standard in Washington.
The CP story characterized the letters as "undermining the credibility of a report to be released today by British Columbia's auditor general over the provincial government's carbon neutral experiment."
MLA 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.
Barisoff should release the report immediately, he said.
"I don't believe he has 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.
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."