Finance Minister Allen Roach and Auditor General Jane MacAdam
There is an obvious communication breakdown between the office of the auditor general and the provincial department of finance.
Auditor General Jane MacAdam told the public accounts committee this week that she did not see the proposed amendments last fall on a bill to increase transparency on loan write-offs by the province, nor did she sign off on the legislation. Ms. MacAdam had investigated the issue and found Crown corporations have been writing off millions of dollars since 2005 without public scrutiny.
Based on Hansard accounts of the debate on December 2, 2015, Finance Minister Allen Roach told the legislature on five occasions that government lawyers and staff sat down with the AG and that “The Auditor General is satisfied that this legislation, the way that it is written, will confirm and fall in line with the recommendation that she made with respect to the authorization requirements for write-offs and cancellations in amounts owing to the province.” The other four answers were much the same.
Asked after the committee meeting Wednesday to explain the glaring discrepancies, a department spokesperson told The Guardian the auditor general “requested a formal update on government’s direction on the legislation, and that update was provided prior to last fall’s legislative sitting. The exact language was then reviewed with legal counsel as appropriate.”
The statement was vague and raised more questions.
Based on these accounts, it seems the AG was given assurances last fall that legislation amendments were pending to address her concerns. It seems that government counsel looked at the changes and signed off on them. But after that, who knows?
The Guardian did finally interview the minister Thursday afternoon. Mr. Roach said a letter was sent to the auditor general last fall outlining some of the planned amendments, but she wasn’t shown the complete bill because it was still being drafted.
The minister appears to be splitting hairs here.
Ms. MacAdam did not see the final bill or even the final amendments. No matter how he tries to spin the story, Mr. Roach’s comments in the legislature last fall are at variance with what actually happened. He was trying his best to sell a bad bill and fortunately the opposition parties wanted nothing to do with it.
What is important now is that the bill be re-introduced this spring with amendments to strengthen the wording and eliminate loopholes as suggested by the auditor general, the Opposition and Green Party.
But before that happens, the auditor general must be shown the complete bill and she must sign off on the legislation that must fully address her concerns.
And the premier should have a private word with his minister of finance and suggest he get his department and his own act cleaned up.
Miscouche says no thanks
The village of Miscouche doesn’t subscribe to the biblical axiom to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The village wrote a letter to the province in January saying it has no interest in amalgamating with the City of Summerside. There was no real reason for the letter. The village just wanted to get its position on the record for future dealings with its much larger municipal neighbour.
In almost the same breath, Miscouche says it would be willing to entertain annexation of its own smaller neighbours. In that letter, Miscouche council suggested a better alternative might be for it to amalgamate/annex its rural fire districts.
Miscouche wants to keep its historical and cultural identity which might disappear within Summerside but which would have a better chance of survival in a union with St. Nicholas, Belmont, Southwest Lot 16 and Central Lot 16. Those four rural areas might have the same thoughts about keeping their own identity, which might disappear within an expanded Miscouche.
Summerside might have an interest in welcoming nearby Miscouche with its almost 1,000 residents but it would have little interest in going farther afield into rural areas such as Lot 16.
The real issues with municipal amalgamation are, and will continue to be, taxation and essential services. Like electoral reform, it’s a matter of educating citizens and clearly explaining options without the heated rhetoric and let Islanders make an informed decision.