CLICK HERE for video of Premier Kathy Dunderdales response to this editorial:
It is the stuff of comedy - or perhaps tragedy. An officer of the House of Assembly, whose job it is to audit the spending practices of government, is told that he is not allowed to look at the books on how $5 billion of taxpayers' money was spent, and the reason given by a government that touts itself as "transparent and accountable" is that releasing any information on how projects were picked would violate - wait for it - a section of the province's access to information act.
The government is hiding behind a section of the access act, section 18, that says information that would reveal the details of cabinet deliberations can't be released.
The auditor general is not just a person off the street asking for information. The AG has specific legislative authority to examine virtually any aspect of government spending. Here's the section of the law that gives the AG that authority: "Except as provided by another Act that expressly refers to this section, every department of government, every agency of the Crown and every Crown-controlled corporation shall furnish the auditor general with information regarding its power, duties, activities, organization, financial transactions and methods of business as the auditor general requires, and the auditor general shall be given access to all books, accounts, financial records, reports, electronic data processing records, explanations, files and all other papers, things or property belonging to or in use by the department, agency of the Crown or Crown-controlled corporation and necessary to the performance of the duties of the auditor general under this Act."
Powerful stuff - not enough to allow the AG direct access to cabinet deliberations, but certainly enough to have the right to examine where $5 billion went.
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The government is taking the radical and unprecedented position that everything leading up to cabinet's decisions on the funding is necessarily secret - whether cabinet saw the documents or not - because "it is the Department (of Justice's) position that all documentation either obtained or generated by departmental officials, supporting assessments and rankings of proposed infrastructure projects whether forwarded to Budget Division/Cabinet Secretariat or not, ultimately informs cabinet deliberations and decision making as part of the budget process."
Using that logic, every piece of correspondence in government might some day "inform" cabinet deliberation, and therefore, the auditor general could look at nothing.
Think about this: the last time MHAs kicked the auditor general to the curb, it was to block the review of constituency allowances. And we know exactly how that turned out - with the AG away, the MHAs started to play. And steal.
Hardly an advertisement for the benefits of the unaudited life.
And that brings us to the whys: why does the government not want the AG to look at where the money went?
Could it be that nothing like $5 billion was ever spent, and that the massive infrastructure claims were a sham? Could it be that, like federal G8 funding, cabinet ministers had their fingers in the pie and were choosing pet projects in their own districts? Was the money some kind of political slush fund?
In the absence of answers for the actions of the government, you're left to imagination.
It comes down to one clear question: what does this faux "open and accountable" government have to hide?