Nova Scotia

Minister says it's last call for municipal councillors who expense booze bills

The province plans to force municipal CAOs and councillors to post their expenses online starting this fall. The new rules will also outlaw sticking taxpayers with bar tabs.

Municipalities will have to post all expenses online every 3 months

Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill says he will bring in a new bill laying out expense rules for municipalities. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

This fall will be last call for municipal CAOs and councilors who expect the local taxpayer to pick up the tab for their alcohol.

Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill told CBC News he plans to bring in a bill this spring laying out new expense rules for the people who run towns, municipal districts and cities, along with their elected representatives.

Last year, it was revealed councillors and senior staff in the Municipality of Guysborough expensed thousands of dollars worth of alcohol, including $400 in wine, beer, rum, vodka and lemon gin for a single meeting. And in scandal-plagued Richmond County, a forensic audit found nearly $8,000 in alcohol purchases over five years.

'Aggravating to the public'

Although Churchill said he didn't want to be too prescriptive about what municipal CAOs and politicians can expense, alcohol will be specifically banned.

"There will be a standardized rule for alcohol expensing," Churchill said. "It'll be in line with the provincial policy, which is that you can't. You can't expense that.

"That's one of the things that I think is aggravating to the public. When they see those sorts of expenses coming in."

Confidence sought

Under the new rules, every municipality in the province would also have to post expenses online. Councils would have to name a qualified resident to sit on its audit committee to ensure the public has a voice when it comes to overseeing municipal expenses. 

"We want to have a level of accountability and transparency that people can have a lot of confidence in," Churchill said. "And I think having all expenses online, ensuring that everyone's working under the same sort of rules and ensuring that members of the public can participate in the auditing process I think will achieve that."

Allowed expenses would include a wide variety of things such as per diems, travel and meals, as is currently the case for provincial politicians.

The plan is to introduce a bill in the upcoming spring sitting of the legislature and have the rules take effect in time for officials to post their first quarterly report in September.

A snap election call would push back those dates.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.