N.S. auditor general requests more money for health-care system assessments

Auditor General Kim Adair says her office needs an increase in funding in order to assess the work of the province's health-care system.  (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Auditor General Kim Adair says her office needs an increase in funding in order to assess the work of the province's health-care system. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Nova Scotia's auditor general says that if the government wants her to be a second set of eyes on the health-care system, her office needs enough money to do the work.

Kim Adair appeared before the legislature's management commission in Halifax on Wednesday to request a budget increase that would allow her to add staff in order to take on more health-focused work.

Adair requested an increase of about $1.1 million, which would bring her total budget to about $7.14 million. The money would be used to fill three more positions focused on health audits, raise pay levels and hire some experts a short-term basis.

Members of the commission unanimously approved the request, but ultimately the government will decide whether the increase is granted. Adair noted that last year's request, which was also supported by commission members, was not fully granted in the 2023-24 budget.

"I know asking for an additional $1 million sounds like a lot, but you have to put it in context," she told MLAs on the commission. Health-care spending in Nova Scotia now tops $6.5 billion.

Less money would mean less work

During the 2021 provincial election, the Progressive Conservatives promised to have dedicated health-care auditors to monitor and assess the system's performance.

Adair's office currently has four positions dedicated to the task, but it is no longer enough, she said. Her office has already audited the province's ground ambulance system and is working on audits about the cybersecurity of Nova Scotia's digital health network and the development of transitional care facilities.

The upcoming fiscal year includes plans for three health performance audits. But without the additional funding, Adair said other work the government wants, such as examining performance indicators and a comparison of Nova Scotia's system with other provinces, might not be possible.

Finance Minister Allan MacMaster, a member of both the management commission and treasury board, could not recall why Adair's request last year was not granted in full.

MacMaster said the release of the 2024-25 budget is "weeks away" and people would know the result of the most recent request then.

'Put your money where your mouth is'

Having the auditor general's office assess the health-care system is a real advantage, the minister said.

"They're a second set of eyes for the government and I think governments who want to see constant improvement should always be open to auditor general recommendations."

If that's the case, opposition MLAs said the Tories should grant Adair's request in full.

"I think you have to put your money where your mouth is and that's what budgets are," New Democrat MLA Susan Leblanc said in an interview.

Leblanc said it's "essential" for the government to have that second set of eyes on how the health-care system is being funded and its performance.

Liberal MLA Keith Irving said "there's no question" the government should give Adair's office the full amount requested.

"She needs more resources to do what the government asked her to do," he said in an interview.

"If a government is going out and running and saying that they are going to do something and they don't do it, what does that say about anything that they tell the public?"