Tories say keeping committee rules brought in under old premier fails to live up to new promises

·2 min read
Committees continue to meet virtually as Province House adheres to public health protocols. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Committees continue to meet virtually as Province House adheres to public health protocols. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia Tory MLA Tim Halman says he's still waiting for evidence of the change promised by Liberal Premier Iain Rankin.

At Wednesday's public accounts committee meeting, Halman put forward a motion to change the committee rules.

Historically, the legislative committee met weekly, with few restraints on topic selection. But in 2018, Liberal MLAs used their majority to unilaterally change that. Now the committee meets monthly and is restricted to topics covered in reports by the auditor general.

Halman said he was hoping that with Rankin coming into office on a promise to operate a transparent, collaborative government, that there would have been a willingness to revert to the previous format. Liberal members voted down the motion.

"It's the same old, same old," Halman said in an interview. "What's happened to the collaborative, transparent government promised by the premier?"

Changes increased productivity

Speaking in favour of Halman's motion, New Democrat MLA Lisa Roberts said the changes the Liberals forced on the committee are not in service of the public.

"Changes to the committee and how the committee operates really ought to be arrived at through conversations in the committee. And what we saw with the changes that were made … was an absolutely unilateral change to a very long-standing practice in Nova Scotia."

But Ben Jessome, the minister for the Public Service Commission, said during the committee that he believes the changes have been useful.

Jessome pointed to the creation two years ago of a health committee, where many of the topics that previously went to public accounts now go. Like public accounts, the health committee meets monthly.

"While I can't speak on behalf of the premier, what I will say is today, I think that I appreciate the level of engagement that our present structure enables. I don't have feedback from constituents to the contrary," he said.

'We have less scrutiny'

Jessome said the change "has enabled productivity" through the entire legislative committee structure.

Like Roberts, Halman said restricting meeting topics and having them less frequently isn't in the best interest of accountability.

"We can't consistently hold the decision-makers accountable," he said.

"Prior to the fall of 2018, public accounts met weekly. MLAs were able to meet with senior government officials to grill them, to ask the tough questions. … We get better public policy by holding ideas up to scrutiny and we have less scrutiny."