Opposition alleges P.E.I. Finance Minister ‘lied’ in legislature

Teresa Wright twright@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 24, 2016

Opposition Leader Steven Myers speaks Tuesday, June 24 at the public accounts committee hearing Auditor General Jane MacAdam's annual report.

Steven Myers says auditor general never reviewed contentious loan write-off bill or gave it thumbs up

Opposition MLA Steven Myers says Finance Minister Allen Roach “lied” in the legislature last December when he said the province’s auditor general reviewed government’s contentious loan write-off bill and gave it a thumbs up.

During a meeting of P.E.I.’s public accounts committee Wednesday, Myers asked Auditor General Jane MacAdam whether she was satisfied with the bill, which proposed to enshrine into law that all loans or debts written off by any agency of government must be approved by cabinet.

This legislative change was put forward as a direct response to concerns MacAdam raised in her 2015 report after she found Crown corporations were quietly cancelling and writing off millions in taxpayers’ money every year without public scrutiny.

Quoting from the official transcript of the Dec. 2 sitting of the legislature, Myers noted Roach stated the auditor general was consulted on government’s loan write-off bill, and that she was “satisfied with the wording of the legislation.”

MacAdam told public accounts Wednesday she did not see the legislation, nor did she sign off on it.

“I didn’t review the legislative changes,” MacAdam said.

“Quite frankly, I’m floored that the finance minister would lie to the house,” Myers responded.

The bill sparked heated debate on the final day of the fall sitting of the legislature, when Opposition Conservative MLAs and Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker raised multiple concern about the way bill was structured, notably that it would not be applied retroactively and that it contained a loophole in the wording allowing cabinet the discretion to withhold details from the public.

It was so contentious, government pulled the bill off the floor and closed the legislature that day without passing it.

When the house is prorogued in April, it will die on the order paper.

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance says the bill will be re-introduced in the upcoming spring sitting of the legislature and is “a high priority for government.”

MacAdam confirmed to reporters after the committee meeting Wednesday she did not see or receive a copy of the loan write-off bill prior to its introduction in the house last fall, but was informed there would be legislative changes coming.

Myers says he is now considering raising a point of order against Roach for allegedly misleading the house.

“I imagine the members of the legislative assembly will want to reprimand someone who lied to them,” Myers said.

“I’m a little shocked that the finance minister, who is about to drop a budget on the house, has basically lied about something so trivial… you’re going to talk about a budget and you’re showing us numbers and you expect us to believe you? That would be my concern about it.”

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.”