There were a lot of new faces on the Public Accounts Committee Tuesday as MHAs went into the legislature to question Department of Natural Resources officials about problems with the Roddickton wood pellet plant.
Liberal MHA Tom Osborne is now a member of the public accounts committee. He’s been in this position before — more than a decade ago, when he was in opposition as a Tory. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
Due to all the shuffling and floor crossing within the political ranks, three of the seven members of the Public Accounts were new faces.
The committee was back for a second go at the government's forestry diversification program, which poured around $9 million into a pellet plant on the Northern Peninsula that has never produced pellets.
Osborne, new to the committee, said based on what he's seen, the government didn't do its homework before handing money over to the company.
“I don’t think the department and the minister responsible, the government in general, carried out due diligence,” he said.
The Public Accounts Committee has only been active for the past couple years after a long period of being dormant.
Committee chairman and Liberal MHA Jim Bennett said that the committee can take things further than the auditor general does in his reports, by taking the most concerning chapters and holding public hearings.
“A committee is more dynamic. A committee can request witnesses to come before the committee and can have a full public hearing,” he said. “The AG’s report is more of, well, it’s a document.”
Back in October when the Public Accounts held its first hearing on the forestry diversification issues, Bennett called the whole thing “a big scam” saying that government officials were being evasive and refusing to provide information.
Tory MHA Tracy Perry, one of the other new faces on the committee, said she's looking forward to the hearings. On Tuesday, she only asked one question, saying most of her concerns were addressed during the October session before she was on the committee.
But she said government oversight is important, and she's been reading the auditor general's report since she was in her 20s.
New Democrat MHA George Murphy, another new face, pressed the government officials on claims that the Roddickton pellet plant would create hundreds of jobs.
“I was looking at a program in Nova Scotia right now. On Feb. 4 there was a company in Nova Scotia that just shipped off 25,000 tonnes of pellets to Europe,” Murphy said. “The plant over there only has 30 people working for them, but yet they were talking here in the diversification program of employing 322 people — 10 times the people putting out the same product. That kind of doesn’t make sense.”
After holding public meetings, the Public Accounts Committee puts together a report for the House.