The audit conducted by federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser into the sponsorship program has shocked Canadians from coast to coast. “Rules were broken or ignored at every stage of the process for more than four years,” said Fraser, “and there was little evidence of value received for the money spent.”

The sponsorship program cost $250 million with more than $100 million going to communications firms, many of which are major contributors to the federal Liberal party.

One of the many lessons from this scandal is the critical role played by the auditor general herself, and that of the opposition parties in Parliament.

Without the determination and independence of Fraser and the efforts of MPs such as the Conservative party’s John Williams and the NDP’s Pat Martin, the facts would not have come to light.

The need for independent and critical oversight of government has been demonstrated once again for all to see.

In light of this, consider the attitude of B.C.’s Liberal government, no stranger to political scandal and financial mismanagement in recent months, in tabling a so-called balanced budget on Tuesday.

In it, Finance Minister Gary Collins slashed the budget of B.C. Auditor General Wayne Strelioff by $832,000, or more than 10 per cent.

Apparently, the lesson from Ottawa for Collins is that the best way to stop investigations is to slash independent oversight of your actions.

The government cut Strelioff’s budget by five per cent last year. The result was the cancellation of a series of key audits of controversial government initiatives, such as a review of public-private partnerships. According to Strelioff, the finance minister’s repeated cuts mean “that critical areas of government performance will not be examined in a public, independent manner.”

Collins has further directed substantial cuts to the information and privacy commissioner, the ombudsman and every other independent officer of the legislature.

Moreover, one of Premier Gordon Campbell’s first acts upon coming to government was to deny official Opposition status and resources to the New Democrats.

Over the past three years, with a record majority, the government has relied on closure — the cutting off of debate as a routine parliamentary tactic — an approach without precedent in the history of the legislature. The consequence of a government imbued with a sense of its own power and authority are there for all to see.

Since Christmas, the government has faced an unprecedented and growing list of scandals: the RCMP raid on the offices of Collins, the Walls affair and a contracting scandal in the Ministry of Children and Family Services, the appointment of the premier’s brother-in-law, a noted opponent of public medicare, as a B.C. representative on the National Heath Council, and the write-off of $2 million of debt owed by the aquaculture companies months after the industry made large campaign donations to the Liberals.

These are the acts of a government unconcerned with accountability for its actions.

In fact, as the aquaculture issue shows, Collins and his colleagues treat the Financial Administration Act not as rules but “more like guidelines,” like the rogues in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Collins’s so-called “balanced budget” is a tribute to wishful thinking and regressive taxation. Is the budget balanced? Not according to the standards the Liberals previously applied.

The government has added $1 billion in regressive tax increases on taxpayers. In spite of this, and in spite of health-care cuts, the balanced budget depends on slashing the forecast allowance from $750 million to $100 million, massive tuition fee increases, inflating expected revenues from the federal government, the sale of B.C. Rail, a change in accounting procedures and raking in the proceeds of an unnecessary seven-per-cent rate increase by B.C. Hydro.

The Hydro rate increase was supposed to be about the Crown corporation’s needs. Now, we know it has more to do with political desperation on the part of the premier.

The irony in the government’s decision to cut the auditor general’s budget again is this: It will undermine the government’s own credibility.

It is the auditor general who must ultimately verify the accounts, alas, after the 2005 election. For example, the auditor general verified that the final two NDP budgets were, in fact, balanced.

The credibility of the auditor general, the information and privacy commissioner and the ombudsman actually strengthen the government’s position by providing an independent stamp of approval on its accounts and policies. By slashing the means of public accountability, the government is saying to the electorate, “trust us.”

As it reels from a series of broken promises and scandals, this seems like an unlikely prospect.