By James Aylward (guest opinion)
© Heather Taweel/The Guardian
In the Opposition, we have become increasingly accustomed to hearing half answers, prevarications and outright untruths. It has become intolerable for us, and more so, for the people of Prince Edward Island.
While Premier Wade MacLauchlan talks much of transparency and openness, we see no evidence of that. It’s just the contrary. It’s been more and more secretiveness and distortions of the facts.
We witnessed something very unusual and troubling this week in Public Accounts. Auditor General Jane MacAdam informed myself as Chair, and other committee members, that she had not reviewed or endorsed legislation on the need for Executive Council approval of all government loans write offs. That was one of her key recommendations in her 2015 Auditor General's Report.
The Auditor General showed in that report how millions of taxpayer’s dollars have been written off, without being disclosed to the public, through the normal process of Executive Council Orders. She recommended the legislation be changed to ensure full disclosure. In the fall, when government introduced its proposed bill, we were assured by Finance Minister Allen Roach that the Auditor General had approved the legislation prior to its tabling.
At that time, Minister Roach said in the House, at least five times, that the Auditor General had indeed reviewed the legislation and had agreed with the proposed Bill. But the Auditor General told Public Accounts this week this was not the case and that she had not seen the legislation.
This is a direct contradiction to what Minister Roach said. Instead of owning up, Minister Roach now tries to explain it away by saying that his office had informed the Auditor General about the changes, through a letter.
But MacAdam never saw the final draft of the legislation. That's very clear. Who do we believe - the Auditor General or the Finance Minister? Will Mr. Roach continue to challenge and question the Auditor General?
This leads to another example of untruths - the infamous e-gaming file, and the Guardian's Freedom of Information request to Karen Rose, the province's Information and Privacy Commissioner.
Rose has ordered that a one-page summary of government's terms and conditions for a $950,000 loan to the Mi'kmaq Confederacy be made public. It should show how this money was to be paid out.
That loan set the whole questionable e-gaming file into motion. Government had refused The Guardian's information's request for the contents of that letter. But Rose has overturned that and ordered the province to release the information. She made a very good judgment. Finance Minister Roach should release the information immediately and forget any notion of appealing Rose's decision.
Islanders understand the file and the resulting loss of $950,000 in a dubious loan, ostensibly to the Mi'kmaq Confederacy, but really to the McInnes Cooper law firm and overseen by the secretive gaming committee. We also must wonder why the Robert Ghiz and MacLauchlan governments insisted on putting the First Nations People out in front of this debacle.
It's time to stop the stonewalling and hiding behind the courts, where a $25 million dollar lawsuit is being played out. That may take years.
The MacLauchlan government should also stop holding up this ridiculous argument that it's being investigated by the Auditor General so they won't comment. She has already told our Legislature's Public Accounts Committee that any inquiries by that committee and its members would not affect or influence her work.
It's time for Mr. MacLauchlan and Mr. Roach to finally be forthright with Islanders and to stop the nonsense and the half-truths because, at the end of the day, Islanders see through all of that.
The MacLauchlan government must finally explain to taxpayers how the $950,000 was spent? Was it lawyers, accountants, travels, fees . . .? Where are the legal opinions on the e-gaming scheme? There is ample evidence they exist - they had to have been undertaken just because the plan was contrary to the Canadian Criminal Code.
But most importantly of all, explain to Islanders the involvement of top bureaucrats and senior ministers in this scheme and whether they personally benefitted in anyway?
Islanders don't want any more obstructions and prevarications. They want the truth and so does the Opposition.
James Aylward is Chair, P.E.I. Public Accounts Committee.