Party leaders propose steps to make expense system public
HALIFAX (CP) — Nova Scotia’s three main political parties agreed Tuesday to move ahead as quickly as possible with specific reforms aimed at making the expenses of legislature members more transparent.
Premier Darrell Dexter met for just over an hour with Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil and interim Conservative Leader Karen Casey to address concerns raised since the release of a report earlier this month by auditor general Jacques Lapointe.
Lapointe’s audit, which looked at the three-year period between 2006 and 2009, cited numerous examples of inappropriate and excessive spending and highlighted the need to strengthen vague rules and inadequate oversight.
Dexter said the parties have agreed that the internal economy board, which is responsible for administering the rules around expense allowances, will meet Tuesday and be instructed to take action in four areas.
He said the leaders expect the board to set a date for the posting online of all expenses filed by the legislature’s 52 members.
Dexter said it will also be asked to make all expenses receiptable, including living allowances for all house members who reside outside Halifax but maintain accommodations in the capital.
There are also directives to dis- cuss the forming of an appropriate body to deal with administrative matters around expenses and to look at boosting the pay of constituency assistants to better reflect the amount of work they do.
The board will also receive an interim report from former Speaker Art Donahoe, who is looking at the expense system.
“I think there are some things we can do immediately,” said Dexter. “So the best thing for us to do is to act expeditiously. I think that’s what the people of the province want to do.”
The meeting appeared to satisfy fears on the part of the opposition that the New Democrats would move unilaterally on a reform package.
It came a day after Dexter pledged he would seek input from the Liberals and Tories before legislation is introduced in the coming session of the legislature, which will begin March 25.
McNeil said he believes taking immediate steps on openness and transparency is critical in restoring the public’s confidence in an institution — the legislature — that has “taken a hit.”
“There are many issues that are facing our province that are critical,” he said. “We are in a very tough financial situation ... and the government needs to start moving toward governing and putting this issue behind us.”