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Auditor General offers advice on BCUC after previous studies

B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer. Supplied photo
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VICTORIA, B.C. — B.C.’s Auditor General says the provincial government should clarify whether it intends to act on two task forces that identified risks to the effectiveness of the B.C. Utilities Commission.

Carol Bellringer says those risks were identified in 2013 and 2014 and included recommendations on ways to improve the commission’s role. A team of auditors from Bellringer’s office found many of the same risks in its review and highlighted five of them in a report to the government on Thursday.

The auditor says the recommendations would improve the commission’s independence, its review of large projects and the clarity of the policy guidance it provides. The commission, which was created in 1980, regulates some of B.C.’s biggest companies including BC Hydro, FortisBC and ICBC.

Bellringer said one of the task force’s noted how the government sets energy policy, defines the commission’s mandate and directs it on specific matters. When government gives direction, she said it should not dictate outcomes or intrude on the commission’s consideration of individual applications.

In cases where the government makes final decisions, Bellringer said the commission can provide an independent expert review.

“Government can direct the commission to take certain actions or not take action at all,” Bellringer wrote in her report. “British Columbia has a history of government directing the outcome of the commission’s decisions or, in some cases, excluding it from key decisions altogether. For example, as recent as 2017, government direction restricted the commission’s review of ICBC rates.”

The provincial budget forecast a $1.3-billion deficit at the insurance corporation this year and Attorney General David Eby described the situation earlier this year as a “dumpster fire.”

Over the years the government has promised to strengthen and protect the commission’s independence and credibility, Bellringer said.

“Utility companies tend to be monopolies because they are large and have expensive infrastructure, and so an effective regulator is in the interest of all residents of British Columbia. Given that government already knows how it can use the commission more effectively, we encourage government to clarify its intentions regarding the outstanding task force recommendations.”

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