Finance minister accused of 'contempt of this House'
P.E.I. Opposition Leader Steven Myers has accused Finance Minister Wes Sheridan of contempt of the Legislature in connection with his accounting for federal money provided in compensation for the HST.
The Legislature opened for the spring session Wednesday, and Myers stood to make his motion regarding the contempt and breach of privilege as almost the first order of business of the house.
The accusations regarding what Myers is describing as manipulation of HST accounting are not new. In February, Myers complained that the blue book, the final audited statement of the provincial finances, showed all $39 million of federal compensation for the harmonized sales tax had been moved into the 2013-14 fiscal year.
This was in contrast to the provincial budget document of last spring, which showed $25 million in 2012-13, and $14 million in 2013-14. Myers accused Sheridan of deliberately shuffling the money to show a lower deficit for the province in both years.
The move changes the 2012-13 deficit from $53 million to $78 million.
Call for a ruling from speaker
In a 10-minute, somewhat legal, argument Wednesday, Myers called on Speaker Carolyn Bertram to rule there was a "clear and unquestionable case of breach of privilege — and contempt of this House."
Sheridan said in February that he made the change in the blue book because the auditor general had ordered it. He said the deal with the federal government was clear that the money would be delivered over two fiscal years.
But Myers said in the legislature today there was no way Sheridan was not aware that accounting rules required that all the money be accounted for in the year the tax was enacted, ie, in 2013-14. Those rules came into effect a full year before Sheridan tabled his 2012-13 budget.
"I submit to you that the blue book is misleading," Myers told the house," and that the finance minister was aware of that fact when he tabled it."
Myers said the Legislature must discuss his motion immediately, and that Sheridan must withdraw from the house while that discussion was underway.
Premier Robert Ghiz responded, calling the Opposition Leader "confused" and the government's change in the way it accounted for the HST money was due to the request by the Auditor General and that there was "nothing here untowards."
Speaker of the House Carolyn Bertram told the Legislature this was a "serious matter", that she would review Myers' statement and report back "in due course."