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P.E.I. government scolded for leaking budget details to Liberal party

['<p>Speaker Buck Watts</p>']
Speaker Buck Watts. -Guardian file photo

The MacLauchlan government got a scolding Wednesday from the speaker of the P.E.I. legislature for leaking details of the capital budget to the Liberal party of P.E.I. and others last week.

Speaker Buck Watts has directed government to review its budget release policies and practices after what he called a “troubling” release of details of the capital budget details before it was tabled in the legislature.

“I am not at all pleased with the events surrounding the introduction of the capital estimates last Friday,” Watts said Wednesday.

The issue arose when Finance Minister Allen Roach presented his $134-million capital budget on Friday.

As he was delivering his budget statement, a Twitter account run by the Liberal party of P.E.I. began posting details, including dollar figures, contained in the capital budget address. The tweets were almost identical to tweets also being posted almost simultaneously by an account managed by paid employees of the government caucus office.

Then on Saturday, an ad for District 11 byelection candidate Bob Doiron appeared in The Guardian. It listed spending details from the budget, including a new Sherwood school.

Related: Concerns raised in legislature over Liberal ad in P.E.I. newspaper

Opposition MLA Steven Myers raised two points of privileges about these developments, saying it appeared the Liberal party of P.E.I. was privy to spending details in the capital budget before it was officially tabled in legislature.

In his ruling Wednesday, Watts said it appeared clear the capital budget was indeed released to others outside the legislature before it was tabled.

He ruled this leak was not a breach of privilege, but did say he felt it was part of “disturbing trend” of government not respecting the customs of the legislature.

He says he witnessed non-MLAs with copies of the capital budget document before it was tabled and that the finance department had posted a press release and link to the document a full 32 minutes before it was officially a public document.

Watts further noted all MLAs were provided advance copies of the budget, but that only the Opposition and Green party offices were given a cover letter advising them to keep the details under strict confidentiality, while members of the Liberal caucus office were given no such caution.

He also says the Liberal party tweets indicate it “could well have been the case” the party had access to preliminary budget detail.

“The foregoing chain of events, lack of careful due process and disrespect to this house is troubling,” Watts said.

Poll: Do you think the government did anything wrong by releasing the budget to the Liberal party? 

He further admonished government for announcing details of the provincial cultural strategy at a coffee shop on Monday, when legislative custom says any new government policies or initiatives should be announced in the house when it is in session.

This is a concern that comes up almost every session and yet it continues to happen, Watts noted, calling it an example of disrespect.

“If members, in the conduct of your responsibilities on behalf of Prince Edward Islanders do not have respect for each other and this parliament, you can not realistically expect those outside this place to show respect for the work you conduct here on their behalf.”

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