Dex­ter vows to tighten ex­pense rules

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY KEITH DOUCETTE

HAL­I­FAX — Nova Sco­tia Premier Dar­rell Dex­ter says he will in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion in­tended to strengthen spending con­trols fol­low­ing a probe that con­cluded mem­bers from all three main par­ties in­ap­pro­pri­ately and ex­ces­sively used pub­lic money.

In his first pub­lic re­marks since the spending scan­dal erupted last week, Dex­ter ad­mit­ted he bought a $2,150 dig­i­tal cam­era and two lap­tops for $5,501 — ex­penses that the prov­ince’s au­di­tor gen­eral flagged in a re­port as ex­ces­sive.

“ I re­gret that I have been in­cluded in his re­port,” Dex­ter told a news con­fer­ence Mon­day. “But talk is not as im­por­tant as action.”

Dex­ter said he made his pur­chases to re­place equip­ment used for con­stituency work with up­grades that were more durable.

He said the cam­era was bought four years ago when prices were sig­nif­i­cantly higher.

“I haven’t quib­bled about this ... I haven’t done any­thing but to say that in this re­gard I would re­im­burse the en­tire amount and I have,” Dex­ter said.

He promised to bring in leg­is­la­tion to elim­i­nate the in­ter­nal econ­omy board, a body that reg­u­lates pay­ments to politi­cians.

The board, com­prised of mem­bers from each party, cur­rently meets pri­vately and is re­spon­si­ble for set­ting the rules on leg­isla­tive mem­bers’ al­lowances and ex­penses — “an ar­chaic ar­range­ment that has proven in­ef­fec­tive,” Dex­ter said.

Un­der the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, a new com­mis­sion would be es­tab­lished to re­place the board that would have its meet­ings open to the pub­lic, he said, adding that he ex­pected the leg­is­la­ture would also set clear lim­its on what ex­penses can be claimed.

Dex­ter also or­dered the Speaker to release the names of all politi­cians whose ex­penses were deemed in­ap­pro­pri­ate and ex­ces­sive by the au­di­tor gen­eral.

The list re­vealed that Con­ser­va­tive mem­ber Richard Hurl­burt, who apol­o­gized last week for spending $7,995 on a gen­er­a­tor, also charged tax­pay­ers $2,499 for a 40-inch TV and $579 for in­stalling it.

Hurl­burt, a for­mer cab­i­net min­is­ter, did not dis­close the ex­pense when he ad­mit­ted to buy­ing the gen­er­a­tor, which was in­stalled at his home.

A spokesman for the Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus said Hurl­burt had left the coun­try on a trip to Florida. Hurl­burt did not re­turn a mes­sage seek­ing com­ment.

In­terim Con­ser­va­tive Leader Karen Casey later said in a state­ment that Hurl­burt had con­tacted the Speaker’s Of­fice and re­paid the costs of the TV and in­stal­la­tion.

The Speaker’s list also showed that for­mer Con­ser­va­tive cab­i­net min­is­ter Ron Chisholm had claimed $750 for a global po­si­tion­ing unit.

Dex­ter also asked the Speaker to seek an im­me­di­ate reg­u­la­tion change that would re­quire mem­bers to deduct their own meals from any ex­pense claim they sub­mit on days the leg­is­la­ture sits and they qual­ify for an $84 per diem.

Dex­ter ad­mit­ted to three in­stances where he claimed for meals while re­ceiv­ing a per diem, in­clud­ing a com­mu­nity fundrais­ing din­ner for which he pur­chased a ticket but did not at­tend and a break­fast and a din­ner he hosted for busi­ness rea­sons.

He said he had since re­im­bursed tax­pay­ers for the lat­ter two meals.

Au­di­tor gen­eral Jac­ques La­pointe high­lighted the ques­tion­able spending in a re­port re­leased last week af­ter au­dit­ing the ex­penses filed by mem­bers be­tween July 2006 and June 2009.

The money went to items in­clud­ing custom-made fur­ni­ture, cam­eras, a model boat and an espresso maker.

Some politi­cians have apol­o­gized and re­paid the funds, while oth­ers have sought ad­vice from La­pointe and the Speaker’s Of­fice on what to do.

Lib­eral Leader Stephen McNeil said he sup­ported the move to dis­band the in­ter­nal econ­omy board, sug­gest­ing that post­ing mem­bers’ ex­penses on­line would be an­other way of im­prov­ing trans­parency.

“ If those were posted on­line, I think mem­bers would think twice about buy­ing a $ 5,000 com­puter or a $2,000 cam­era,” said McNeil.

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