None of Nova Scotia’s Liberal MLAs were willing to go where their boss went last week.
Auditor General Michael Pickup spoke to MLAs at public accounts on Wednesday about his audits released a week ago, in which he criticized the Health Department and Health Authority for a “poor job” of explaining the province’s plans for primary care.
On Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil criticized Pickup, saying he should run for office if he wants to comment on the government’s communication skills.
“If he chooses and wants to do public policy there will be 51 ridings for him to run in,” McNeil told reporters last week.
“He has a job to do to ensure that the finances are being spent appropriately, public policy is actually for the people that are elected across the street,” McNeil said.
Backbenchers in caucus refused to make similar comments on Wednesday, not using their chance with Pickup to question his mandate or whether he had strayed from it in the recommendations tabled last week.
WATCH: Nova Scotia’s premier tells auditor general to run for office if he wants to comment on policy
Asked whether she agreed with McNeil’s assessment, MLA Suzanne Lohnes-Croft said: “I don’t have an opinion on that, the report clearly was accepted by the Department of Health.”
Ben Jessome avoided the question from reporters saying he wasn’t at public accounts “to perpetuate a narrative on pitting the auditor general against the premier.”
“Zero concern or worry that we are outside of mandate”: Auditor General
The only person to directly raise McNeil’s critiques was NDP MLA Dave Wilson.
In response, Pickup reinforced his position that he was well within his mandate to report on how the government is communicating about changes to primary care.
“I have zero concern or worry that we are outside of mandate,” Pickup told Wilson. “Clearly we are inside of mandate.”
Asked by Wilson is he has any plans to run for office, Pickup said “I can 150 per cent guarantee you that will never happen.”
Liberal MLA suggests audit findings could be ‘misleading’
Liberal MLA Hugh MacKay instead picked another fight — suggesting that the audit was flawed because it focused on the lack of a communications plan rather than analyzing all of the actual communications the government and health authority made.
After listing the reach of a Facebook post from the health authority, the number of news releases from the health department, and the media calls that government handles every year, MacKay said the following:
“There’s a great amount of communication vehicles, channels for disseminating the information on health care here to Nova Scotians and we believe that if the concentration is done strictly on the framework of the audit that could be misleading to the public who may not understand the purpose of the audit.”
MacKay didn’t ask Pickup to respond to that statement and he ignored reporter questions after committee.
Pickup’s report said different versions of a communications plan on primary care have been sitting in draft form and unapproved dating back to 2015. He also said websites controlled by the health department and health authority “do not have useful information on changes to primary care service delivery or for doctor recruitment.”
Asked if his report’s findings could be misleading, Pickup said “absolutely not.”
He pointed to the health department and health authority’s acceptance of his findings and recommended fixes as proof that his audit is on track.
Top health officials will be at the committee on Dec. 13 to respond to the audit.