B.C. won’t commit to independent investigation into CleanBC, MNP allegations

Despite asking the auditor general to look into conflict of interest allegations around a CleanBC grant, the BC NDP will not say whether it is appointing a special prosecutor.

On Monday, Premier David Eby announced he had asked for an investigation to be launched into a grant administered by accounting firm MNP, after allegations were raised by a Merritt-based small business.

Edison Motors claims MNP both administered the grant and offered private consulting services to help businesses with their applications. The company also alleges that the MNP representative who tried to sell the accounting firm’s services in grant-writing — for a 20 per cent fee — was the same representative who informed the small business that its application was unsuccessful.

MNP has denied the claims, saying they “are false and misleading,” adding team members are prohibited from providing grant writing services for programs the company administers.

Opposition presses for independent investigation

BC United has called for a special prosecutor to be appointed to look into the allegations. However, the minister responsible for the CleanBC program wouldn’t confirm whether that was going to happen.

“These are serious allegations that have been made about the administration of a grant program,” Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Minister Josie Osborne said in the legislature Tuesday, being interrupted by interjections from MLAs.

“These are allegations regarding the role of MNP in the administration of two specific grant programs. That is why we have directed the Auditor General to undertake the review. The Auditor General can, as he sees fit, broaden that review, as is required. That’s entirely his right. If he decides to do so, of course, the government will support that. It’s important that the integrity of his process is maintained.”

Opposition MLAs have twice brought forward motions calling for an investigation into the allegations, only to have the NDP shut those motions down.

CleanBC offers companies and people rebates and incentives to help the province reach its climate emissions goals. There are various programs, including those to help people go electric or switch to cleaner energy options in their homes.

MNP has said it is “committed to full transparency and accountability for every public program” it administers, adding it “welcome(s) a government-initiated program review.”

However, not everyone is optimistic about the review.

Duff Conacher, a director with advocacy group Democracy Watch, questions whether the investigation will be transparent or result in actual changes.

“Auditors general across the country should have more resources to doing auditing but the key thing is to give them the power to actually penalize people, fine them, and fire them,” he told CityNews Tuesday.

Conacher says there should be better checks and balances when governments set up these kinds of programs, noting “there aren’t” any such measures.

“They hire people and appoint people who have no experience in government or little training and often exempt them from some of the checks and balances in ongoing regular internal audits and inspections. That’s where you see things go off the rails and that’s how boondoggles happen,” Conacher said.

He says loopholes in rules and weak enforcement are just some of the challenges, adding, “the old saying is that the cover-up is worse than the crime, often.”

On Monday, Premier David Eby said the auditor general will “make sure that, not just in this particular program, but generally, that we’re putting in place all the safeguards to ensure we’re hitting that goal of fairness for all applicants.”

“It’s critically important to me and I know to all applicants and all British Columbians that when people apply for government funding, that they get a fair shot and that the proposals that are chosen, are chosen because they’re the best proposals,” he told reporters at an unrelated news conference.