Costs top six figures for probes at House

Rob Antle
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The partial bill is in for a complex series of complaints, counter-complaints, investigations and legal actions that have embroiled the House of Assembly and its independent offices in recent months.

So far, taxpayers are on the hook for legal, consulting and other expenses that easily reach into six figures.

The partial bill is in for a complex series of complaints, counter-complaints, investigations and legal actions that have embroiled the House of Assembly and its independent offices in recent months.

So far, taxpayers are on the hook for legal, consulting and other expenses that easily reach into six figures.

That's according to documents obtained by The Telegram using provincial access to information laws.

The ultimate costs will almost certainly end up even higher.

Some of the numbers are more than a month out of date. That's generally how long it takes the government to respond to open-records requests, although some of the answers arrived more quickly.

And one office at the centre of the swirling series of controversies says it has yet to report incurring any legal expenses, even though it has been involved in court proceedings for months.

Last week, the provincial cabinet suspended child and youth advocate Darlene Neville with pay, and appointed retired provincial court judge John Rorke to the position.

Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy cited the "dysfunctional nature of that office at present" in explaining the decision.

House Speaker Roger Fitzgerald and Neville have been at loggerheads for months.

In June, Fitzgerald released an independent review that cleared him of harassment allegations made by Neville.

Last month, Neville filed court documents seeking to quash a new investigation into a whistleblower complaint involving her office.

Previously, Neville had filed court documents seeking to bar citizens' representative Barry Fleming from carrying out the investigation.

She has alleged that Fleming is in a conflict of interest, because of Neville's own probes of the health authority where Fleming's wife is employed.

It also emerged in recent court filings that another investigation of the child and youth advocate's office is currently underway - this one by the Public Service Commission, at the request of the Speaker.

In July, The Telegram asked the various offices to outline some of their legal and other expenses related to the ongoing tussles.

According to the responses, those expenses include:

The House of Assembly paid St. John's law firm Curtis Dawe nearly $22,000 for 90 hours of professional services, plus assorted expenses for the period March 18 to April 9.

The Centre for Innovative Dispute Resolution invoiced the House nearly $30,000 for the report that exonerated Speaker Roger Fitzgerald of harassment allegations made by Neville.

As of mid-July, the office of the citizens' representative had been billed more than $19,000 by law firm O'Dea Earle with respect to the ongoing actions involving the Speaker and child and youth advocate.

Earlier this summer, the provincial cabinet hired former deputy minister Robert Noseworthy to take over Fleming's investigation of the whistleblower complaint against Neville. Noseworthy is eligible for a top payment of $125 per hour, up to a ceiling of 320 hours. That equals a maximum payment of $40,000. The amount could be increased if both sides agree. The House of Assembly is on the hook to provide office space and support personnel as required, along with any legal expenses incurred by Noseworthy as part of his duties.

Neville has been suspended with pay. Her salary is $133,000 annually. According to the House of Assembly, an interim agreement has been reached with Rorke - Neville's interim replacement - to pay him an hourly rate of $175.

It's unclear who is paying legal bills incurred by the child advocate's office, or if there are any legal bills to be paid.

In mid-July, the advocate's office responded to a Telegram request for the cost of its legal expenses by noting that "documents of this nature do not exist in this office."

St. John's lawyer Bern Coffey has been representing Neville during numerous court appearances aimed at quashing various investigations related to her office. Coffey did not return an e-mail before deadline.

The House of Assembly says it has not received any invoices to date for legal expenses incurred by the advocate's office.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, Public Service Commission, Innovative Dispute Resolution

Geographic location: St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Think about
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Can we see the same that is going on in Alberta turning up here soon? Have Not once again with these foolish people in office wasting every gain that could have been made all in the name of greed. Soon we will have so many from Alberta here to take the few jobs that might have been. I guess we can not say no, how many people from this province benefited from the Alberta economy when it was at it's prime. Now we should be seeing Danny Williams reporting events as outlined below.

    Danny loves to waste yours and my resources and funds to no end. This is what we have to look forward to once again.

    EDMONTON - Alberta's energy boom gone bust has left the province with projections of a record $7-billion deficit and if natural gas prices continue to fall, there could be even more red ink by the end of the fiscal year.

    Finance Minister Iris Evans has ordered provincial bureaucrats to find $430 million in program savings, but deeper cuts are coming as the government scrambles to trim $2 billion from the budget by next year.

    Quite frankly, our earnings took a real kick in the head, Evans told a news conference Wednesday. We are heavily dependent on our oil and gas revenues.

    Global economic turmoil is deeper and more sustained and natural gas prices are lower than originally forecast and the result is a higher deficit than we predicted.

    The new deficit number included in Alberta's first-quarter update is $2 billion more than the original budget forecast. But the latest forecast is based on a prediction that natural gas prices will nearly double to $4 per gigajoule for the remainder of the fiscal year.

    Some market analysts are predicting exactly the opposite for natural gas prices in the coming months because of large inventories of gas in storage and a weaker North American economy.

    Evans was coy about whether the deficit could get even worse given these dour predictions. When asked if continued weak gas prices could increase the deficit, the minister said flatly: Not in this forecast.

    Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said with financial reports this week predicting gas prices falling below $1 per gigajoule, Alberta's deficit projections are overly optimistic.

    I have no confidence that this (deficit) number is going to stay where it is, said Hennig. I think it could reach $8 billion or even $8.5 billion.

    Jack Mintz, former president of the C.D. Howe Institute, also said the deficit could end up being worse if natural gas prices fall lower. But he also said the province may be overly optimistic in its projections for tax revenue.

    I would expect that corporate taxes will fall much more than is reflected in the statement, said Mintz.

    I think that there's a potential negative shock on some of the other taxes as well.

    Premier Ed Stelmach announced Tuesday that Alberta's financial pain would likely continue for at least two years after the recession ends. But Stelmach said the deficits over the next few years will be offset with $17 billion in emergency savings, so no tax increases are planned and he's reluctant to cut jobs.

    But Evans offered contradictory statements on whether a series of deficits over the next few years could end up draining the entire $17 billion Sustainability Fund.

    We will not allow that the happen, she said in a prepared statement at the start of the news conference. But under a barrage of media questions, the finance minister later recanted.

    We might take it down to zero, but that's the worst-case scenario.

    Evans had to revise a prediction she made earlier in the year that Alberta would weather the current economic downturn with only 15,000 job losses. The new figure is 22,000.

    The minister also issued a more gloomy economic forecast of negative 2.5 per cent growth for the year, due mainly to weaker housing starts and lower than expected consumer spending.

    Later in the day, Alberta's health superboard announced it will pursue a further three per cent budget cut to deal with its $1.1-billion deficit.

    Stephen Duckett, CEO of Alberta Health Services, said it is looking at voluntary retirements, as well as reducing red tape and finding cost savings from providers, to lop off a further $350-million in annualized savings.

    That's on top of the $650 million already saved through such initiatives as streamlining the purchasing of knee and hip replacements.

    It's important to get started and move quickly, but it's a multi-year process, said Duckett, who said despite the cuts they won't abandon their plan to improve service and cut wait times for emergency surgery.

    Duckett said they don't expect to balance the budget for another three to four years, but Evans insisted that this additional public debt should remain separate from the government's red ink.

    We acknowledge that's an important consideration, but I'm not prepared to add it to the projected deficit that we've got in this budget, said Evans. It isn't hidden away.

    Despite the weak economic outlook, Alberta's population continues to grow as people migrate from other provinces. Stelmach said Tuesday he expects the population to increase by 50,000 this year.

    One bit of good news in the fiscal update is a $1 billion rebound by the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, which lost roughly $3 billion when stock markets plunged over the past year.

    But Alberta's Progressive Conservative government has a policy of siphoning off profits from the Heritage Fund, so $730 million will be transferred to general revenues.

    Total revenue for the year is now forecast at $29.6 billion, while expenses are pegged at $36.4 billion.

  • Think about
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Can we see the same that is going on in Alberta turning up here soon? Have Not once again with these foolish people in office wasting every gain that could have been made all in the name of greed. Soon we will have so many from Alberta here to take the few jobs that might have been. I guess we can not say no, how many people from this province benefited from the Alberta economy when it was at it's prime. Now we should be seeing Danny Williams reporting events as outlined below.

    Danny loves to waste yours and my resources and funds to no end. This is what we have to look forward to once again.

    EDMONTON - Alberta's energy boom gone bust has left the province with projections of a record $7-billion deficit and if natural gas prices continue to fall, there could be even more red ink by the end of the fiscal year.

    Finance Minister Iris Evans has ordered provincial bureaucrats to find $430 million in program savings, but deeper cuts are coming as the government scrambles to trim $2 billion from the budget by next year.

    Quite frankly, our earnings took a real kick in the head, Evans told a news conference Wednesday. We are heavily dependent on our oil and gas revenues.

    Global economic turmoil is deeper and more sustained and natural gas prices are lower than originally forecast and the result is a higher deficit than we predicted.

    The new deficit number included in Alberta's first-quarter update is $2 billion more than the original budget forecast. But the latest forecast is based on a prediction that natural gas prices will nearly double to $4 per gigajoule for the remainder of the fiscal year.

    Some market analysts are predicting exactly the opposite for natural gas prices in the coming months because of large inventories of gas in storage and a weaker North American economy.

    Evans was coy about whether the deficit could get even worse given these dour predictions. When asked if continued weak gas prices could increase the deficit, the minister said flatly: Not in this forecast.

    Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said with financial reports this week predicting gas prices falling below $1 per gigajoule, Alberta's deficit projections are overly optimistic.

    I have no confidence that this (deficit) number is going to stay where it is, said Hennig. I think it could reach $8 billion or even $8.5 billion.

    Jack Mintz, former president of the C.D. Howe Institute, also said the deficit could end up being worse if natural gas prices fall lower. But he also said the province may be overly optimistic in its projections for tax revenue.

    I would expect that corporate taxes will fall much more than is reflected in the statement, said Mintz.

    I think that there's a potential negative shock on some of the other taxes as well.

    Premier Ed Stelmach announced Tuesday that Alberta's financial pain would likely continue for at least two years after the recession ends. But Stelmach said the deficits over the next few years will be offset with $17 billion in emergency savings, so no tax increases are planned and he's reluctant to cut jobs.

    But Evans offered contradictory statements on whether a series of deficits over the next few years could end up draining the entire $17 billion Sustainability Fund.

    We will not allow that the happen, she said in a prepared statement at the start of the news conference. But under a barrage of media questions, the finance minister later recanted.

    We might take it down to zero, but that's the worst-case scenario.

    Evans had to revise a prediction she made earlier in the year that Alberta would weather the current economic downturn with only 15,000 job losses. The new figure is 22,000.

    The minister also issued a more gloomy economic forecast of negative 2.5 per cent growth for the year, due mainly to weaker housing starts and lower than expected consumer spending.

    Later in the day, Alberta's health superboard announced it will pursue a further three per cent budget cut to deal with its $1.1-billion deficit.

    Stephen Duckett, CEO of Alberta Health Services, said it is looking at voluntary retirements, as well as reducing red tape and finding cost savings from providers, to lop off a further $350-million in annualized savings.

    That's on top of the $650 million already saved through such initiatives as streamlining the purchasing of knee and hip replacements.

    It's important to get started and move quickly, but it's a multi-year process, said Duckett, who said despite the cuts they won't abandon their plan to improve service and cut wait times for emergency surgery.

    Duckett said they don't expect to balance the budget for another three to four years, but Evans insisted that this additional public debt should remain separate from the government's red ink.

    We acknowledge that's an important consideration, but I'm not prepared to add it to the projected deficit that we've got in this budget, said Evans. It isn't hidden away.

    Despite the weak economic outlook, Alberta's population continues to grow as people migrate from other provinces. Stelmach said Tuesday he expects the population to increase by 50,000 this year.

    One bit of good news in the fiscal update is a $1 billion rebound by the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, which lost roughly $3 billion when stock markets plunged over the past year.

    But Alberta's Progressive Conservative government has a policy of siphoning off profits from the Heritage Fund, so $730 million will be transferred to general revenues.

    Total revenue for the year is now forecast at $29.6 billion, while expenses are pegged at $36.4 billion.