Less than a day after Speaker Chris Collins insisted Auditor General Kim MacPherson should abandon plans to overspend her budget, Premier Brian Gallant has dismissed that position.
The premier told reporters his government will now likely offer MacPherson's office more money. The auditor general has requested more funds in order to conduct a second audit into the Atcon loan fiasco.
"We're very open to listen and I think we're very open to giving the auditor general the resources she believes she needs," Gallant told reporters on Tuesday.
Gallant's statement reverses a December announcement that no new money would be made available and appeared to undermine Collins who had been taking a hard line with MacPherson.
- Auditor General Kim MacPherson seeks more money needed for Atcon audit
- Kim MacPherson vows to investigate Atcon a second time
Collins insisted on Monday the Legislature, not the premier, had the authority to deal with the issue.
"I am not government. I am manager for the budgets of the Legislative Assembly and this falls under my category," said Collins.
Refused extra funding
MacPherson has been on a collision course with the province over her budget since last winter when she was refused extra funding to undertake an in-depth audit of the 2010 bankruptcy of the former Atcon construction company in Miramichi.
The province lost $70 million in Atcon's collapse and although it happened long before Gallant entered the Legislature, several of his current cabinet members were involved in decisions to fund the company.
MacPherson made it clear she wants to get to the bottom of what happened.
"It is my intention to table an independent report responding to a number of the unanswered questions, including the most common question my office receives from concerned citizens on the Atcon file, 'Where did $70 million of taxpayers' money go?'," MacPherson said in a statement last December.
But Liberal cabinet minister Roger Melanson told the Legislature the following day MacPherson would receive none of the extra money she said she needed to pursue the Atcon issue.
"She has a budget and she will have to work within that budget," said Melanson.
Despite that refusal MacPherson began the work anyway and this summer informed Legislature officials her office would likely overspend its budget this year by $400,000 because of the Atcon probe.
On Monday, Collins said MacPherson was out of line and would have to answer to the body that is supposed to independently control her budget, the 10 MLA committee of the Legislature which he chairs.
"We're appealing to the auditor general's accounting nature and trying to work this out so she doesn't come in over budget. Otherwise it will have to be all determined by the Legislative Administration Committee," said Collins.
But Gallant's intervention appears to usurp Collins' responsibility to deal with the issue.
The premier said government expects MacPherson to detail exactly how much money she wants and formally request it, but there will be no more efforts to stop her getting it once that happens.
"We foresee probably no problem," said Gallant.
"We will certainly take her request, once we hopefully formally get it, very seriously."