Opposition MLAs leave committee meeting in protest

Click to play video: 'Opposition MLAs leave committee meeting in protest' Opposition MLAs leave committee meeting in protest
WATCH: After PC MLA Allan MacMaster gave a speech condemning a recent government decision to restrict who opposition members can bring before the Public Accounts Committee. MacMaster, along with the rest of the opposition members, walked out in protest. Jeremy Keefe reports – Oct 3, 2018

A recent change to how the Public Accounts committee operates culminated in a protest that nearly cleared the room as all opposition MLAs walked out of the Wednesday morning meeting.

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The Public Accounts committee calls witnesses for questioning regarding departmental business, government-led initiatives, or as was the case most recently, to discuss the recent report of Nova Scotia’s auditor general. But the final straw appears to have been when the government moved to restrict who can be called and what topics can be discussed.

The new ruling restricts the PAC agenda to only topics being covered in auditor general reports.

Committee chair Allan MacMaster brought the committee meeting, coincidentally scheduled to discuss the recent report from the auditor general, to a standstill early in the proceedings.

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“What we are seeing here is that the power of majority government is not good enough for this government,” MacMaster said. “This is why people in Nova Scotia don’t vote. Why vote when the government is going to do what it wants anyway?”

“I considered resigning but I don’t want to be seen as a quitter,” he continued. “So to show my disdain for what has happened I’m going to walk out of here today. I’m hoping members of the opposition will join me.”

PC MLA Chris d’Entremont and NDP MLAs Lisa Roberts and Dave Wilson followed MacMaster out.

Liberal MLAs Gordon Wilson, Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, Hugh MacKay, Ben Jessome and Brendan Maguire remained, making the committee meeting an all-government member affair.

Gordon Wilson defended the government decision and says the main reason they voted to change the ruling was to better focus on the reports of the auditor general, following a recommendation from Michael Pickup himself.

“This is in no way, shape or form an attempt to circumvent not having topics brought before public accounts that are outside of the audited reports,” Wilson said.

“My whole intent was to try to focus on the letter we received from the AG,” he explained. “I think we should all understand what he was asking for is the right thing; more accountability, more transparency.”

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“There’s several ways that agenda items can be brought forth in public accounts committee,” Wilson said.

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Although Wilson indicated the door isn’t firmly closed on the Opposition in terms of what they can request, those who walked out say ultimately it’s stifled discussion and made it harder for them to ask questions on behalf of Nova Scotians.

“It feels effectively like Opposition members have lost the ability to put topics on the agenda of the public accounts committee,” NDP MLA Lisa Roberts said after the meeting.

“We ought to be able to as a committee decide that we have the ability to ask these questions, we have the ability to do this probe,” she explained. “And right now I don’t see how that happens.”

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“This is more than about the gripe of an Opposition politician, this is really about the public,” said MacMaster. “I say that because who becomes the public’s voice when the government does something you don’t like? Or when the government does something you don’t agree with? It is the Opposition that becomes the voice of the public.”

The four MLAs who walked out have indicated it was a one-day protest.

They plan to return to the PAC next week.

Follow @Jeremy_Keefe

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