Ensuring oversight over tax dollars

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Island taxpayers are right to be annoyed at the findings of internal reviews showing that the now defunct Tourism Charlottetown Inc. was taking too many financial risks on the assumption that government would cover the losses. After all, it’s taxpayers who pay, and they’re entitled to know who was looking out for their interests at the decision-making table of this organization.

The province commissioned MRSB in 2010 to review Tourism Charlottetown Inc. after it requested a $1-million loan from government to help cover losses caused in part by a Cirque du Soleil show that failed to make a profit. A draft report of MRSB’s findings reveals an organization “in financial crisis” that had been losing money for three years. The report’s authors cited several contributing factors, including the organization’s apparent willingness to take on money-losing events that benefited tourism operators. Further it said risky financial decisions were made due to “a strong industry slant on the board of directors” and that continuous losses were tolerated on the “soft assumption” that government would step in and help. A second review by PricewaterhouseCoopers echoed many of the recommendations made by MRSB, including that Tourism Charlottetown Inc. focus instead on marketing and promotion and back away from ownership and delivery of money-losing large-scale events.

To put it mildly, the reviews amount to a damning assessment of Tourism Charlottetown. And although it was reconstituted into Discover Charlottetown earlier this year and many of the recommendations of both reviews have been implemented, questions still remain. How much loan money is still outstanding to the province from the former Tourism Charlottetown? Who was looking out for the taxpayer when financial decisions were being made? Why were decisions made that benefited some in the industry while causing financial losses for Tourism Charlottetown? Was it because of the “strong industry slant on the board of directors”?

If that was the case, then government has an obligation to rectify that. Tourism Charlottetown may have become Discover Charlottetown, but as Opposition Leader Olive Crane pointed out recently, many of those formerly on the board of Tourism Charlottetown now sit on the board of Discover Charlottetown. Is there anyone whose main responsibility is looking out for the public purse?

At the very least, government must ensure that the new board include a broader base of perspective so that taxpayers’ interests are weighed equally with those of the industry when decisions involving tax dollars are being made.


A noteworthy announcement

 Olive Crane’s recent announcement of a provincial youth secretariat was noteworthy for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, it represented some signs of life from the Progressive Conservative party leader, who has been relatively quiet over the past several months. Even during the spring session of the legislature, Crane seemed to prefer allowing other MLAs to field questions. It has been a quiet summer for all party leaders, but Crane’s announcement suggests that she and her party are gearing up for a busy fall.

The other reason the announcement of a youth secretariat is noteworthy is that it reflects a new emphasis on engaging young people in rebuilding the party. Island New Democrats created a youth wing this past year as well, so it appears both parties are recognizing the need to tap the younger demographic in their attempts to re-energize their ranks.

Organizations: Tourism Charlottetown, Cirque du Soleil, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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