Myers treading on risky ground with allegations

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Opposition Leader Steven Myers tells reporters Thursday he believes Finance Minister Wes Sheridan misrepresenting province’s finances.

Calling Wes Sheridan a liar going too far when auditor general backs up minister

Opposition Leader Stephen Myers is convinced there cannot be any positive news about the province’s finances. He has gone to the extreme to make that point and has lessened the civility of political debate.

On Jan. 31, Auditor General Jane MacAdam released the province's official Public Accounts for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. They showed the province's projected $74-million deficit for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013, grew to $78 million, pushing P.E.I.’s net debt over $2 billion for the first time.

Mr. Myers, who had earlier accused the province of delaying the release of the blue books to hide fiscal mismanagement, went on the attack. He suggested the books were cooked. The $78-million deficit and record $2-billion debt are alarming numbers and a matter of grave concern. The Opposition leader is correct in questioning them. He took that a step further in a press conference Thursday, accusing Finance Minister Wes Sheridan of outright lying.

It all centres around a $25-million payment the province received from the federal government in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the first installment of a total $39 million in transitional funding to help the province launch the HST. The province did receive the $25 million in 2012-13 but Mr. Sheridan says the auditor general advised him all $39 million should be accounted for in the year the HST was implemented — this current fiscal year.

Mr. Myers called that a lie. He didn’t just suggest it; he willingly went on tape and video to make the accusation the same $25-million HST payment is being applied in two fiscal years — last year and this one to make the books appear better than they actually are. There is no evidence to support that serious allegation.  

Mr. Sheridan said his first choice was to apply the $25 million to 2012-2013 so instead of a deficit of over $78 million, the books would show a deficit of over $58 million. The other $14 million would be applied this year, giving Mr. Sheridan two years of back-patting options to show what a great job he is going.

Mr. Sheridan asks a very good question. “Who would ever want to put a $78-million (deficit) finish out in the books when I could have had a $58-million (deficit) finish and come in better than expected on our budget.”

The auditor general confirms she made the suggestion to apply the full amount to this year’s statements, yet Mr. Myers single-mindedly refuses to accept that fact. He says Mr. Sheridan has misled or lied in the past so he must be lying now.

Mr. Myers might be able to say those things inside the legislature rails and escape with censure from the Speaker or ejection for un-Parliamentary language, but when he makes those kinds of comments in a press conference, he is on dangerous ground from which even an apology would be insufficient.

The AG said she might have qualified her audit opinion if the finance minister didn’t follow her recommendation. It seems like a black and white issue, but Mr. Myers is looking for skeletons where none seem to exist. He can’t accept the fact that $39 million will be applied to the deficit this year, possibly dropping the red ink to under $40 million when the blue books come out next January and make it appear possible that Mr. Sheridan might actually come close to balancing the books by 2016, just in time for the spring provincial election.

A balanced budget by 2016 would be good news for the province but bad news for the Opposition. Calling the finance minister a liar will not stop that from happening, no matter how hard Mr. Myers might wish it.

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