Hurlburt quits over spending scandal
HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s spending allowance scandal has claimed the political career of one of its central figures with the resignation of veteran Tory Richard Hurlburt, who admitted buying a generator and big-screen television at public expense.
The news broke abruptly Tuesday in a short news release from the Conservative party on behalf of Hurlburt, who is vacationing in Florida and unavailable for comment.
The statement didn’t mention why the 10-year veteran was stepping down as member for Yarmouth riding.
But in a news conference following a caucus meeting, interim party leader Karen Casey explained that Hurlburt made a personal decision that she accepted.
“He believes that it is in the best interests of the constituency of Yarmouth, as well as his family and the caucus and me as leader, that he step down,” she said via speakerphone from Truro, N.S., during a Halifax news conference.
Hurlburt, a former Conservative cabinet minister, was widely criticized after the province’s auditor general released a report last week that showed he spent $7,995 in public money on a generator that was installed in his home.
He initially defended the purchase as a valid expense, saying it could used in emergencies by a nearby seniors’ home and for ground search and rescue teams. He later apologized and said he had reimbursed taxpayers.
On Monday, the Speaker’s Office released a list of questionable expenses that showed Hurlburt also charged taxpayers $2,499 for a 40-inch television and $579 for installing it. He didn’t mention the television when he admitted buying the generator.
Casey said Hurlburt was “truly sorry” for what he recognized as an error in judgment in regard to his expense claims.
“Although the intent was honourable, the perception was questionable and I think that would be what he considered to be an error in judgment on his part,” she said.
Casey added that she couldn’t speak to why Hurlburt didn’t resign when his expenditures first came to light.
She also deflected questions about her own credibility as interim party leader in light of admitting that she knew about Hurlburt’s additional expenses but chose not to say anything when she initially informed reporters about the generator.
Casey said she doesn’t feel the need to resign because she believes it is up to individual members to come forward about their expenses.
She said she didn’t try to withhold information or mislead the public.
“Could that have been done differently? Absolutely, but that was the path I chose to take,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of caucus, Tory member Cecil Clarke said the matter of whether Casey should resign is not an issue moving forward.
“I can tell you that our caucus has confirmed to our president that our leader is our leader,” said Clarke.
Premier Darrell Dexter has promised to introduce legislation to strengthen spending controls, such as replacing the all-party board that regulates members’ expenses with a commission that will meet publicly.
Meanwhile, because of steps taken last fall to eliminate it, Hurlburt won’t be eligible for a $45,000 separation payment that used to go to defeated or retiring politicians.
He will eventually be eligible for a $41,815 annual pension, according to figures on the Speaker’s Office website.