The provincial government does have an infrastructure plan: it’s called “the budget.”
That was the message Premier Kathy Dunderdale delivered to reporters Thursday, battling criticism from acting auditor general Wayne Loveys, who reported this week the government does not have a formal infrastructure strategy.
Dunderdale also said her government values openness and transparency, despite the charge that officials had refused to turn over documents to the acting auditor general.
In Wednesday’s report, Loveys said he had been refused access to the documents that detail how the government chose roughly $5 billion in infrastructure projects.
Loveys found that despite many references to the government’s “Infrastructure Strategy,” there is no formal document detailing a process for prioritizing infrastructure spending.
“When we determined that there was no formal document (for) infrastructure it was decided to determine what process existed at the departmental level to identify, evaluate and rank potential infrastructure projects,” the acting AG wrote in his report.
When he asked for documents along those lines, he was told many of those documents inform cabinet decisions and are, therefore, outside his scope.
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Loveys disagreed with that interpretation and formally re-ported the government denied him access to relevant documents.
Dunderdale said cabinet documents are only a narrow classification, and Loveys should have been able to do his job by looking at different material.
“I think there are other ways for him to get that information, other than from cabinet documents,” she said.
“There are reams and reams of information that’s made available to the auditor general,” said Dunderdale.
“It’s just the information that’s pulled in for the preparation of a cabinet document — and there aren’t that many cabinet documents — that are excluded.”
On the issue of the government’s lack of a formal strategy, she said the strategic infrastructure direction is instead laid out in budgets and throne speeches.
“We don’t have a formal strategy document, under what school we’re going to build this year or what hospital we’re going to build this year. All of these requests come forward, they’re all considered in the budget process, we lay out a plan for doing this work,” she said. “That’s what the budget is all about, that lays out your infrastructure strategy for the upcoming year right there.”
Neither the NDP nor Liberals were happy with what Dunderdale had to say.
“The government is really in contempt of the voters,” NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said. “If they’re spending $5 billion on infrastructure, then the auditor general should be able to determine how that $5 billion was being distributed, and how the decisions were made.”
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball agreed, and said if he was premier he would give the auditor general free rein to look at whatever documents he deemed necessary.
The one point where Dunderdale agreed with the Loveys was on the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. Loveys was denied access there, too, but Dunderdale said he should have been allowed in.
However, as a joint provincial-federal body, Dunderdale has no power to order it.
“I don’t disagree with the auditor general auditing the CNLOPB, I don’t ever have an issue with that,” she said. “I’m not responsible for the CNLOPB, if I could direct the CNLOPB to allow the auditor general in, then I would allow it. I don’t have that authority.”