© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Opposition MLAs Steven Myers, left, James Aylward, centre, and Colin LaVie enter Province House in this Guardian file photo.
Opposition Leader Steven Myers is accusing Finance Minister Wes Sheridan of being untruthful to the P.E.I. legislature.
It comes two months after Myers accused Sheridan of misleading to Islanders about the way he’s managing the provincial deficit.
Sheridan’s message hasn’t changed. He contends that he was simply following the advice of the auditor general.
It all centres around a $25-million payment the province received from the federal government in the 2012-13 fiscal year. The payment was the first installment of a total $39 million in transitional funding to help the province roll out the HST.
Although the province received $25 million of that HST transitional money in 2012-13, Sheridan said the auditor general advised him all $39 million should be accounted for in the year the HST was implemented — the current fiscal year.
When the spring sitting of the legislature got underway Wednesday, Myers charged that Sheridan committed breach of privilege and contempt of the house. Myers asserted that Sheridan intentionally misled the house one year ago when he tabled the budget.
“The treasurer has put the dignity and the authority of this house at stake,’’ Myers said.
“My point is a simple one. As a member of this house, I have the privilege of relying upon the statements of my fellow members. Like all the members of this house, I must be able to trust the word of the other members. When that privilege is broken, we cannot represent Islanders in a manner that demands respect and commands integrity, thus we must take this action to ensure the basic democratic principles of this house are upheld.’’
Myers drew attention to the rules of the legislature, which state that when a breach of privilege is discovered, the member raising the point must call on the speaker to view the matter and determine whether it is a prima facie case. If so, the speaker will allow debate on a motion to send the matter to the committee on rules, privileges and private bills, where the details will be reviewed and witnesses called.
Carolyn Bertram, speaker of the legislature, said matters of privilege are very serious and she will consider it and, in due course, render her decision.
Sheridan said the opposition is playing politics.
“(Myers) tried this back in February when the blue book (audited financial statements) first arrived. There is no discrepancy in the way these books have been put together. I’m very surprised that he’s doing this but it’s politics and that’s what he’s up to.’’
Sheridan said it is not unusual to have a difference between estimates and the actual deficit budget because the estimate is for a future period and the blue books are looking back after a whole year has transpired.
Sheridan doesn’t think Bertram will send the issue to committee.
“I can’t see any reason for it to be sent. Every single budget that has ever been presented in Prince Edward Island or any other jurisdiction in the world is just that, it’s a budget, an estimate, and every blue book is different than what the budget said. There are some years where discrepancies are very large.’’
Sheridan said there has been no attempt as deception here.
“It’s very important for Islanders to know these are two very different documents. One is an estimate. Every government puts forward an estimate, our best guess of what’s going to take place in the next fiscal (year). The blue book, our statement of accounts, goes back in history and looks at what took place in the year. The auditor general, in her discretion, has the ability to say to me, ‘I would like you to change this’. This takes place with 45 different items every year when you are putting the books together.’’