© Guardian photo by Wayne Thibodeau
Steven Myers, chairman of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and committee vice-chair Buck Watts listen during a discussion on taking the public accounts committee on the road during a meeting in Charlottetown on Thursday.
A committee of P.E.I. MLAs tasked with being the financial watchdog for the province wants to take its show on the road but a Liberal MLA is not sure he wants to venture into rural Prince Edward Island.
The Standing Committee on Public Accounts discussed holding meetings throughout rural P.E.I. in February and March. Proposed locations included Souris, Georgetown, Tignish, Tyne Valley, Belfast and Montague.
Opposition Leader Olive Crane says taking the public accounts committee on the road would allow all Islanders to get a better understanding of how the committee works.
More importantly, she added, it will help residents understand the province's spending priorities.
"I support the idea of taking public accounts out to communities across P.E.I.," said the Progressive Conservative leader.
"I think it's a great way to show government is connected to all Islanders and communities across P.E.I."
The public accounts committee usually meets at the Coles Building, adjacent to Province House in Charlottetown.
Buck Watts, Liberal MLA for Tracadie-Hillsborough Park, suggested the committee meet only in Summerside.
"I don't know about traveling to all those places," said Watts.
"We'll go to Summerside. Have one there and then we'll see how the attendance is there."
The committee also suggested having two meetings a day to save money.
That would mean the committee would meet in Souris in the afternoon and in Georgetown in the evening.
Watts didn't like that idea either.
"I'm not really in favour of having two meetings in one day."
The next public accounts committee meeting will be held in Charlottetown.
The committee will hear from former Charlottetown MP Shawn Murphy.
Murphy chaired the powerful public accounts committee in Ottawa.
Murphy has also been critical of how P.E.I.'s public accounts committee operates, saying as far as he knows the Island's public accounts committee is the only one in Canada that does not allow deputy ministers to appear.
Murphy, a Liberal, said it would be far more effective for the committee to hear from deputy ministers - a position Crane has been pushing since being elected.
"I don't know about traveling to all those places," Buck Watts, Liberal MLA for Tracadie-Hillsborough Park
"The deputies are responsible for administration and that normally would be the focus of the public accounts committee," Murphy said in 2009.
There is nothing in P.E.I.'s rules that stop a deputy minister from appearing.
The rules state a majority of MLAs must approve of a witness appearing before the committee.
In the past, government MLAs of both political stripes have refused to allow most deputy ministers from attending.
Crane wants the word "majority" removed from the rules so deputy ministers can appear without the partisan battles of the past.
The public accounts committee is also going to look at live streaming and maybe even broadcasting committee hearings.
It was looked at in 2009 but scrapped because it would have been too expensive.
Gerard Greenan, Liberal MLA for Summerside-St. Eleanors, suggested the idea, which was supported by the Opposition Conservatives.
"We should look at live streaming this so that no matter where you are you can watch," said Greenan.
JUST THE FACTS
While it is the norm to broadcast full Assembly proceedings, the practice of broadcasting committee proceedings varies across the provinces and territories:
– No broadcasting: Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island.
– Audio broadcasting on website: Alberta, British Columbia*, New Brunswick, Yukon*.
– Video broadcasting on website: Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia (Public Accounts Committee only),Newfoundland and Labrador (House of Assembly Management Commission only)
*Some exceptions apply