A day after releasing his report that looked at how the province is managing the $2 billion QEII redevelopment project, Nova Scotia’s auditor general appeared before the Public Accounts committee.
Michael Pickup shared the findings of his report which include concerns about potential fraud, and the lack of risk assessments and risk management plans.
Opposition members on the committee asked questions about why recommendations from a consultant hadn’t been followed, and why risk assessments hadn’t been completed – questions that went unanswered.
“I think it’s really incumbent upon the department to provide those answers,” Pickup told the committee.
NDP MLA Susan Leblanc put forward a motion to have the department of Transportation and Infrastructure renewal appear before the committee in January rather than wait for a new agenda to be set and include them in a future meeting, which likely wouldn’t happen until May.
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“We need to ask the questions of the department as soon as possible so Nova Scotians can be assured the project is moving ahead in a responsible way,” said Leblanc.
PC MLA Tim Halman supported the motion saying it’s something that can’t wait.
“It’s an issue that matters to Nova Scotians. It’s a topic that’s important to public accounts, I think we have to keep the momentum going in this discussion,” said Halman.
But with a Liberal majority on the committee, Leblanc’s motion did not pass, prompting a new set of concerns.
“We have to put partisanship aside when it comes to public accounts and it feels to me like they’re not willing to do that,” said Leblanc, who also says she wasn’t trying to replace any future discussions, but rather add an extra meeting.
“I will remind everyone that had they not limited the number of meetings we could have in public accounts this would not be an issue.”
In the past, public accounts met up to four times a month, but last year the government limited the number of meetings to just once a month and created a health committee as well, saying that most issues discussed at public accounts were related to the health department. The structure of the committee was also changed to limit discussion to items in reports from the auditor general- something Pickup says he never asked for.
“At the time I indicated if you’re meeting 35 times a year, I hope you’ll consider our work, I never once said you should limit your work to what we do,” he said on Tuesday.
Regardless of why things changed, Halman says the committee as it stands is not working.
“I think if we had been able to bring topics over the past year outside of the AG report, this topic could have been brought forward, perhaps some of the issues could have been avoided perhaps,” he said.
“The demise of public accounts has had a really detrimental affect on developing public policy in Nova Scotia and I believe on our democracy.”
Liberal members noted that a second report on the QEII redevelopment project is coming from the AG in the spring and that would be a better time to bring in the department of transportation and infrastructure renewal.
Brendan Mcguire is among the liberal MLAs on the committee and said the issue of the QEII redevelopment is important, but when asked why he voted not to have the department brought forward sooner he said there’s a process in place.
“There’s a subcommittee that will meet and determine these things, there’s members from all parties, it’s not like the liberals have the majority of votes in the subcommittee,” he said.
“It’ll be brought forward in the subcommittee and the decision will go from there.”