One Guysborough resident is questioning why municipal officials met local MLA and cabinet minister, Lloyd Hines for meetings over dinner and drinks — rather than in an office — at taxpayers' expense.
"It's almost like they're thumbing their nose at the taxpayers," Susanne Roy said.
"Minister Hines has an office not a two minute drive down from the municipality. He has to be home in the area at some point."
Receipts obtained through freedom of information legislation show the former Guysborough warden was treated to meals on the municipality's tab at least seven times in the three years since he was elected MLA.
In most cases, the dinners took place at Halifax restaurants.
Halifax seafood restaurant popular
On Jan. 14, chief administrative officer Barry Carroll expensed a "pre-dinner" with Hines and another guest at The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse in Halifax for $40. They continued on to McKelvie's Restaurant, where the bill for three people came to $284.
$130 in wine, drinks
About two weeks later, the municipality treated Hines to a dinner in Halifax hosted by the Maritime Energy Association. Carroll, economic development director Gordon MacDonald and Warden Vernon Pitts also attended.
In February, Carroll, MacDonald and Hines again dined at the seafood restaurant, McKelvie's, and expensed the cost to the municipality. That bill came to $321, which included $130 spent on wine and other alcoholic drinks.
Receipts show that Hines was treated to meals on at least four other occasions, including a February 2015 dinner at the Bicycle Thief restaurant in Halifax. Carroll charged that meal, which cost $195, to his municipal Visa.
Rules stricter elsewhere
Under provincial rules, MLAs cannot claim alcohol as an expense. Cabinet ministers can, but only when expenses are approved in advance and in limited circumstances, for example, when an event is for business development.
There are no restrictions on claiming alcohol in Guysborough, though the warden told CBC News this week that policy is now under review.
Hines declined to do an interview, but said Wednesday that he hasn't had an alcoholic drink in 15 months. He said he met with Guysborough officials at their invitation.
"When I am at a business function and someone picks up the bill, I expect that they'll follow their organization's rules and procedures around expense claims just as I do," Hines wrote in an emailed statement.
He said questions about Guysborough's policies are best answered by municipal officials.
Hines was a councillor for the Municipality of Guysborough for 25 years, serving 15 of those as warden.
In 2013, he was elected MLA for the district of Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie, and last year was appointed minister of natural resources.
'Very restrictive rules' needed
As a citizen, Roy said she believes it's time to bring Guysborough's policies around alcohol into line with the province and most other municipalities, where alcohol expenses are banned or strictly limited.
"They should have very restrictive rules," she said.
"The days of buying drinks and paving driveways are long gone. They need to be fiscally responsible with the area's money."
The province is now reviewing the legislation governing municipalities. A department spokesperson said "transparency around municipal expenses will be one of the topics that we consider."