It’s one thing to suspect, or feel fairly certain, that patronage is alive and well on Prince Edward Island. It’s quite another to actually hear a former member of government confirm those suspicions in the provincial legislature. Not only did MLA Bush Dumville disclose the issue of extra paving in Liberal-held districts, but he also raised more serious concerns about interference with the work of the critically-important public accounts committee.
When Mr. Dumville resigned from the Liberal caucus Jan. 31 to sit as an independent, it was apparent he was going to be a thorn in the side of Premier Wade MacLauchlan. For almost 11 years, Mr. Dumville was a member of the Liberal caucus and has intimate knowledge of the party’s inner workings.
His resignation from caucus – following snubs from cabinet posts and challenges in his own district - was gladly accepted by the premier, who might be having second thoughts today. Mr. Dumville vowed to use his questions in the legislature this spring to challenge the premier on questions of character and ethics. He’s kept his word. This unfolding mess is largely of the premier’s own making.
First, Mr. Dumville hammered the government in Question Period on "secret committee meetings" when Liberal members of the public accounts committee were advised on how to proceed in the review of e-gaming. He said the premier's chief of staff, Robert Vessey, attended a meeting with Liberal members of the public accounts committee and told them "the premier wants e-gaming behind him."
Several days later, Mr. Dumville said Spencer Campbell, a lawyer and former spokesperson for the provincial party, attended the same meeting to provide legal advice to Liberal committee members.
The Opposition was quick to follow up on these juicy tidbits, forcing Justice Minister Jordan Brown to raise a point of privilege. Minister Brown called the questions "a breach of caucus confidentiality” because the meetings in question were in-camera caucus meetings. Mr. Dumville says that “secret committee meetings are not caucus." Ouch. The Speaker ruled Tuesday in Mr. Dumville's favour.
Next came the embarrassing paving revelations. MLA Dumville says Mr. Vessey called him last year about an extra $2 million for paving and told him to keep it quiet because it was only for Liberal districts. Again, the Opposition gleefully seized on those comments and asked the premier if he allows government departments to use departmental money to buy votes. Ouch, again.
The allegations about direct political interference by the premier’s office in the work of the public accounts committee are serious charges. The premier said, “I did not participate in or make it my business to direct the affairs of the public accounts committee.” And government says neither did Mr. Vessey.
There is a simple solution. Allow the public accounts committee to call Mr. Vessey to appear and let him clarify what happened. If, as we’re led to believe, there were no meetings, coaching or interference, he has nothing to hide. So, set the record straight and move on.
Score this card: Mr. Dumville 3; Government 0.