Dexter vows to tighten expense rules
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.