Opposition MLAs are calling the Liberal government’s tactics to restrict them from posing questions to department heads “undemocratic” after repeatedly squashing Public Accounts motions.
Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill says one of the roles opposition members play in the democratic process is calling witnesses to committee in an effort to dig deeper and inform the public.
Without the ability to bring department officials before the Public Accounts Committee, Burrill says the provincial government is stifling and impeding them from doing important work.
“In order for our democracy to function, the core ingredient is the government must respect this role of the opposition parties,” Burrill explained. “When the government votes to not have the opposition witnesses brought forward this is a fundamental disrespect that keeps our democracy in Nova Scotia from working as it’s supposed to.”
“This is a very important component of our democracy,” Burrill said.
The PCs also aren’t happy with the way the Liberals voted in several recent committee meetings, including the May 30 talks with Auditor General Michael Pickup.
At that meeting Pickup indicated he supported the notion that departments audited by his office should be brought before the committee.
But when the motion was made, complete with Houston offering open dates on the calendar when they could call in the recently audited departments, the Liberal majority ruled against it.
“There’s lots of different committees and organizations we could be meeting with,” said PC Interim Leader Karla MacFarlane. “Organizations that Nova Scotians are keenly and sincerely interested in getting answers from.”
Without accepting the June 13, June 20 and June 27 proposed dates, the Liberals effectively chose to uphold a three month break from Public Accounts.
Their next meeting is scheduled for September 12.
MacFarlane disagrees with the temporary hiatus.
“Everyone works throughout the summer, government should be no different,” she said.
“I think it`s an embarrassment, actually.”
Premier Stephen McNeil expressed his confidence in how the Public Accounts Committee is performing, pointing to the frequency of its meetings, which he says are the highest in the country.
However, when questioned on why members of his party would defeat opposition motions to call on departments recently steeped in controversy, McNeil indicated he wasn’t aware of such situations.
“I don’t know what departments were stopped,” said McNeil. “So I don’t know the issue around that.”