Opposition Leader Steven Myers wants to call a former clerk of Executive Council to public accounts to answer questions about Premier Robert Ghiz’s role in P.E.I.’s controversial immigrant investor program.
Myers sent a letter to the provincial public accounts committee this week, requesting the committee call Allan Rankin to testify.
Rankin served as clerk of the Executive Council under Robert Ghiz from 2007 to 2009. Before that, he was a heavyweight in the Liberal administrations of both Joe Ghiz and Catherine Callbeck and also worked in Ottawa as a parliamentary assistant.
He has recently begun writing an opinion column for The Eastern Graphic newspaper. It is one of these columns that caught the eye of the Opposition leader.
In December, Rankin wrote about Ghiz’s surprise resignation announcement, offering criticism of Ghiz’s time in office, zeroing in on the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). Calling the program a “debacle,” Rankin alleges Ghiz had a direct role in managing this program.
“It is always dangerous for a premier to manage any file within his own office, especially one that is potentially controversial and involves the disbursement of money,” Rankin wrote in his column.
“Premier Ghiz could not resist a direct role in administering and disbursing PNP units, and as a consequence he became ensnared in the irregularities and outrageous behaviour that surrounded that program.”
Ghiz has never acknowledged any direct role in the handling of this program, which has been mired in scandal for more than seven years.
Over 1,300 Island companies received money from immigrant investors through the PNP, which allowed these immigrants to effectively buy their way into Canada. Concerns were raised about how the immigrant monies were distributed to P.E.I. businesses, which prompted an auditor general investigation in 2009. That probe found numerous instances where program officials broke rules and policies, which in turn financially benefitted certain P.E.I. companies and their owners.
Myers points out Rankin was clerk of Executive Council the top public service job in the province at the very time many of the irregularities in this program occurred.
His comments about Ghiz’s involvement shed new light on the controversy surrounding the PNP, Myers says.
“This is the first time that a senior member of government from that time discloses that the premier’s office was directly involved in the handling of the (PNP) file,” Myers said.
“The purpose of the public accounts committee is to review government programs and operation and try to learn from past mistakes so they won’t be repeated. This seems like a situation where… it would be a good opportunity for (Rankin) to come in and explain.”
Rankin was surprised to learn Myers had sent the letter about him to public accounts.
He says he swore an oath of confidentiality when he began working in the Executive Council office, which would preclude him from sharing certain information. But he conceded he was unclear about how long that oath extends after one leaves government and whether the committee’s legislative authority to compel evidence and information would trump this oath.
Regardless, Rankin said he would indeed appear at committee, if called.
When asked if he would be comfortable answering pointed questions about this particular issue, Rankin said no.
“But if you’re sworn to give evidence before a house committee, I would certainly answer whatever questions were addressed to me, with the one constraint that I wouldn’t be able to provide detailed information that came from Executive Council because of the oath I’ve taken,” he said.
“I could speak generally and respond as best I could, but there would be some constraints on that.”
The committee has not yet responded to Myer’s request.