PCs restore power to N.S. Legislature's Public Accounts Committee

·2 min read
Nolan Young, vice-chair of Public Accounts Committee, said the change will bring greater scrutiny to public spending.  (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)
Nolan Young, vice-chair of Public Accounts Committee, said the change will bring greater scrutiny to public spending. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia's Public Accounts Committee is heading back to the future, after PC members on the once powerful Legislature committee passed a motion ending restrictions placed on the committee in 2018 and 2019 by the Liberal government of Stephen McNeil.

The PC vice-chair of the committee, Nolan Young, said the motion fulfilled his party's election promise to reverse Liberal actions that narrowed the scope of the work done by the committee to topics covered in reports filed by the auditor general.

The McNeil Liberals later used their majority to reduce the number of committee meetings from roughly once a week to only once a month.

"We restored the Public Accounts Committee to where previously (it) was able to be effective at holding the government to account," Young told reporters following Wednesday's meeting.

Asked by a reporter if the government was prepared for some uncomfortable moments in the months ahead because of this newfound freedom for the committee, Young responded, "Yeah, absolutely, but that is true, and we know by restoring the Public Accounts Committee to where it once was, that there was going to be times, there will be tough questions but that's the opposition's role is to hold government account and spending into account."

'Incredibly important'

Jean Laroche/CBC
Jean Laroche/CBC

New Democrat committee member Claudia Chender was happy to see the committee return to pre-2018 rules.

"This committee will not be restrained to only considering reports of the auditor general, which is the core purpose of the committee and which is really important," said Chender. "But we will also be able to consider other matters that have financial implications for the province.

"And that's incredibly important because we're all paying for all of that and the public deserves to understand how its funds are being spent."

Health committee lifted burden, Liberals say

Liberal committee member Brendan Maguire seemed less enthusiastic about the change.

"It's a change that they've made," Maguire said. "We supported it. It's the will of the committee and we're glad to see it."

Asked if his party had any regrets for restricting the work of the committee while in government, Maguire denied what the Liberals did was detrimental.

"I wouldn't say we took away the power of the committee. We obviously created a health committee; we're looking forward to the work of that," he said.

That was one of key messages in defending the decisions made in 2018 and 2019: because the Liberals created a separate committee to examine health issues, Liberals claimed with a lighter load the Public Accounts Committee could meet less frequently.

"The more we can meet on this stuff the better," said Maguire about both committees now.

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