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N.B. public accounts committee seeks answers on controversial Saint John financial deal

Click to play video: 'N.B. public accounts hearing enters second day' N.B. public accounts hearing enters second day
WATCH: The second day of a public accounts hearing looking into a Saint John agreement heard from members of the Joint Working Group, as well as the former premier’s chief of staff. Silas Brown reports – Aug 7, 2019

A deal meant to bail Saint John out of a deep financial hole is raising a few eyebrows, especially in the office of the auditor general.

New Brunswick’s public accounts committee began looking at the $22.8-million deal on Tuesday in Fredericton. Former premier Brian Gallant promised the deal, claiming it would help Saint John get out of its dire financial situation.

But the way the deal happened has fallen under scrutiny.

“It’s very east for a government in the middle of an election to come out and say, ‘Yes, we’ll give you $22 million,’” said New Brunswick People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin.

“It’s well-known that they had approached the mayor to run for them as a Liberal candidate, so there’s all kinds of politics that was in play in that.”

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READ MORE: Saint John councillor suggests possibility of selling assets, including Harbour Station

The deal was also criticized earlier this year by Auditor General Kim MacPherson, who said it didn’t have legislative authority and held excessive risk for taxpayers.

The goal of the investigation was to understand the situation, why the funding was linked to the city’s deficit, and to see how it could have handled better.

Saint John Mayor Don Darling says they didn’t want money, they wanted reform.

“We needed help, we needed support,” Darling said.

“That was the way the support was presented to us and that’s why council unanimously agreed to accept the support and it was always about getting the report and having the recommendations in that report be meaningful.”

WATCH: Saint John releases financial action plan

Click to play video: 'Saint John releases financial action plan' Saint John releases financial action plan
Saint John releases financial action plan – Jul 10, 2019

Gallant has told the committee no issues were raised with him or any matters surrounding the deal. He also said the auditor general did not receive all the necessary documents to assess the deal thoroughly.

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Gallant declined a request for an interview.

READ MORE: Saint John councillor suggests possibility of selling assets, including Harbour Station

Darling says he will continue to work with Minister Carr and the premier to get a working group report that will address some of the concerns.

Council will once again deliberate on the report on Aug. 19.

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