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Ward 5 candidates clash over town audits

Town has been without an internal auditor since 2019

With a week to go until the Oct. 24 municipal election, we hope you’ve been reading election websites and literature.

If you have been, you’ve probably heard the call for an audit of the town’s financial health. It’s part of the platform of a number of candidates running for council seats.

Michael Reid, a candidate for town council in Ward 5, is one of them.

His platform says he believes Oakville needs "to be fiscally responsible and to have a complete independent audit that has not been completed for years in order to confirm the actual financial picture of Oakville."

But while a number of challengers for council seats are echoing that call, incumbent candidates are arguing that an independent audit does take place yearly, as required by provincial law.

Jeff Knoll, who is seeking re-election as the Ward 5 town and regional councillor, posted a video to Twitter last week, in what he says is an attempt to address confusion by residents.

In the video, Knoll notes, "We do have an annual audit and we do have it conducted by an external auditor."

And he provides a link to the town’s 2021 Annual Report which notes that the external auditors, KPMG, have provided "an unqualified audit opinion on the Consolidated Financial Statements."

"An unqualified, or “clean” audit opinion indicates that the financial statements prepared by the town are a fair presentation of the town’s financial position and financial results for the past year," notes the town.

But Reid says he believes the town’s finances and operations need a different level of scrutiny.

While the Municipal Act demands that municipalities have their financial statements audited, it also permits the appointment of either internal auditors (who generally report to town staff) or auditor generals (who operate independently and report directly to council).

Reid says the town’s "audit deficiencies" arise because it doesn’t do the type of audits that would be conducted by an auditor general.

Those audits would evaluate the financial, operational, compliance and value for money performance of town programs, local boards and offices of the mayor and members of council, he says.

"One example would be to determine if there has been a mismanagement of funds that could impact our taxes," says Reid. "These audits will also provide all relevant information about all the town’s operations to the residents, which they should have always been entitled to."

Toronto’s auditor general has recently reviewed that city’s 911 dispatch systems, emergency shelters and cybersecurity and published public reports on its findings.

A handful of Ontario cities have appointed auditor generals, while the majority have internal auditors.

Oakville does not currently have either.

"Opportunity to be more transparent," says retired auditor and Ward 5 candidate

Pierre Sauvageot, who is running against Reid for the Ward 5 town council seat, actually served as the town’s internal auditor from 2007 until his retirement in 2019. He has not been replaced.

He is calling for the position to be reinstated or for the creation of an auditor general, to improve transparency and accountability.

"The opportunity to be more transparent exists," he told Oakville News following the Ward 5 debate.

Knoll said he supports having an internal auditor and understands that senior management is reviewing models for providing the service.

"The pandemic delayed moving this forward, but it will be in the 2023 budget proposals from staff when the new council starts that process."