Province targets municipal expenses in wake of controversies

Halifax school board chair shocked when province pulls plug on school review

The Nova Scotia government has introduced legislation to tighten up expense policies for municipalities.  

The move follows spending controversies in Richmond and Guysborough counties. Zach Churchill, minister for municipal affairs, declined to discuss specific violations but said the new rules are meant to help municipalities be more transparent and accountable.  

"There will be a standardized code of conduct for our municipal partners, and for expense, hospitality policy and credit card policies," said Churchill.

Under the legislation, all municipal politicians and head administrators would have to post their expenses quarterly. Any expenses incurred for hospitality events would also have to be publicly disclosed.

The minister said the change would bring all 50 municipalities in line with provincial rules.

No municipal auditor general

Churchill said appointing a municipal auditor general may not get the best "bang for the buck." Instead, every municipality would be required to have an audit committee that meets at least twice a year and has a minimum of one member of the public.

"So there are eyes outside of councils that get to see the audited statements," said Churchill. "That, along with all expenses online, will ensure that we accomplish what we set out to do." 

However, the woman who helped bring the Richmond County spending scandal to light said she's concerned the department won't enforce the new rules. A recent report by a joint committee of municipal and provincial officials recommended another review be done to clarify the role of the Department of Municipal Affairs.

"That report talks about enforcement," said Germaine MacDonald. "And there's nothing to say that Municipal Affairs is going to take on that role."

If the new legislation is passed before a provincial election is called, some of the new rules would take effect at the end of September.