Tory MLAs use majority to block calling Nova Scotia Power to public accounts committee
P.C. government members increasingly flexing majority muscle
Progressive Conservative MLAs used their majority Wednesday to block Nova Scotia Power officials from appearing before the legislature's public accounts committee, the type of action the party decried while in Opposition.
Tory MLAs refused to talk about the vote as they left the legislative chamber.
"I have no comment," said Glace Bay MLA John White as he and colleagues Trevor Boudreau (Richmond), John MacDonald (Hants East) and Nolan Young (Shelburne) walked by reporters.
Hants West Tory MLA Melissa Sheehy-Richard wouldn't talk either, saying she had a meeting to attend.
Although Boudreau, MacDonald, Sheehy-Richard, White and Young all refused to discuss their votes outside the chamber, inside the chamber Young said it was inappropriate to bring Nova Scotia Power before the committee because it's "a forward-looking topic" that doesn't meet the committee mandate, among other reasons.
'Not an appropriate witness'
"Nova Scotia Power is, I'll remind us, a privately owned company," he told the committee. "It is not an appropriate witness."
Young noted that a decision by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board is pending on N.S. Power's application for a rate increase.
Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire said Nova Scotia Power has benefitted from public funding and the government's decision to forgive fines for missing emission-reduction targets. Those reasons, along with the effect power rates are having on people's ability to make ends meet makes the subject a worthy topic for the committee, he said.
Outside the chamber, Maguire said the province is facing a "cost of inflation crisis" and the government needs to do something about it.
"This is an easy win for a government if they want to do it, but they refuse to hold Nova Scotia Power accountable," he told reporters.
New Democrat MLA Susan Leblanc said she sees no difference between the way the Tories are operating now and the way the Liberals did when they were in government.
"It's becoming depressingly clear that whoever is in government will use their majority power to make the committee run the way that government wants to," she told reporters.
"These are topics that are important to people and we are being prevented from exploring them at public accounts."
Along with blocking the Liberal motion, the Tories used their majority to remove Nova Scotia Health interim CEO Karen Oldfield from the list of witnesses the NDP wanted to call to discuss the impact of emergency department understaffing on government expenses. Instead, Young successfully moved that Oldfield be replaced as a witness with the vice-president of operations for the health authority's central zone.
The Tories also rejected an amendment from the NDP to add additional witnesses to discuss agricultural land protection and ecological goods and services. The government only wanted representatives from the Agriculture Department as witnesses and blocked adding the executive director of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture.
The approach is a marked departure for a caucus led by Premier Tim Houston who, in Opposition, projected himself as a champion of accountability in his quest to form government.
Change in approach for Tories
Houston sued the former Liberal government when it refused to release details about the management fee paid to Bay Ferries for operating The Cat ferry between Nova Scotia and Maine.
He also criticized the Liberals for not releasing a study that was used to justify a public-private partnership, or P3, approach for the redevelopment of the Halifax Infirmary. A year into government, however, the Tories have not released that study.
Houston was a passionate critic in Opposition of the way former premier Stephen McNeil's government limited the frequency of public accounts committee meetings and what topics could be discussed.
Shortly after being sworn in as premier in 2021, Houston sought to differentiate himself from the previous government when he vowed to remove constraints from the way the public accounts committee operates.
"The decisions that a government makes, they should be willing to defend in public forums and my government will be no different," he told reporters at the time.
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