Opposition accuses finance minister of lying about loan write-off bill
Auditor General says she never reviewed legislation; Minister told the House she did
Opposition MLA Steven Myers accused Finance Minister Allen Roach Wednesday of lying to the Legislative Assembly last fall during debate around a controversial bill dealing with loan write-offs.
The bill was put forward by government in response to a critical report from Auditor General Jane McAdam, who in her 2015 report noted P.E.I. Crown corporations have been writing off millions of dollars in government loans without government approval, and without any public written record the write-off had occurred.
The bill was given a rough ride by both opposition parties, and was eventually pulled by government before it could be passed.
During debate on Dec. 2, Roach told the House his department had "reviewed [the bill] with the Auditor General, and the Auditor General is satisfied that this will provide the transparency that she was seeking when she made her recommendation."
He also said "our staff has had conversation with the Auditor General with respect to this legislation and to the words that are contained in the legislation. The Auditor General, at this time, is satisfied with the wording and with the legislation."
McAdam didn't review legislation
But appearing before the province's standing committee on public accounts Wednesday, McAdam said she never reviewed the legislation, and thus couldn't say whether it satisfied the need for transparency and accountability outlined in her 2015 report.
"I'm a little shocked that the finance minister, who's about to drop a budget on the House, would basically lie to the House about something so trivial," Myers told reporters after the meeting.
"The premier took the legislation off the floor anyways. We assume that it's going to come back in the spring session. I'm really perplexed why someone would make something like that up."
Myers said he may raise the issue as a point of order when the House resumes.
A spokesperson for Roach provided a response by email.
"The Auditor General requested a formal update on government's direction on the legislation, and that update was provided prior to last fall's legislative sitting. The exact language was then reviewed with legal counsel as appropriate.
"Government's commitment to transparency remains firm. This legislation — which goes much further than the Auditor General recommended — will be re-introduced in the spring sitting of the legislature and is a high priority for government."
Auditor General offers write-off details
When asked, McAdam said she would provide the committee with the information she has on loans previously written off without receiving cabinet approval. That's something the P.E.I. government has consistently said it could not provide retroactively due to privacy concerns. McAdam noted she has not conducted a full audit and so her information is incomplete.
McAdam is usually reserved in the way she presents her own findings, so it was out of character for her to stress to the committee the urgent need for government to resolve issues around loan write-offs.
"This needs to be re-examined," she told the committee.
"There's risks of non-compliance…. Someone needs to sit back and look at all these different practices and look at this legislation, and once and for all decide what is the authorization process for write-offs and cancellations of debts due to the province whether they be loans, or accounts receivable or sales tax or property tax? I think it needs to be resolved."