Not all Nova Scotia municipalities posting expense details online

More than a dozen municipalities in Nova Scotia are lagging behind their counterparts in publicly posting expenses claimed by elected officials under new provincial rules aimed at bolstering transparency and accountability.

Making the information public is meant to renew public trust after spending scandals

The Nova Scotia government introduced legislation laying out new expense rules for the people who run towns, municipal districts and cities, along with their elected representatives. (File Photo)

More than a dozen municipalities in Nova Scotia are lagging behind their counterparts in publicly posting expenses claimed by elected officials under new provincial rules aimed at bolstering transparency and accountability.

Changes were made to the Municipal Government Act in the wake of revelations about spending practices in Richmond and Guysborough counties described by the Nova Scotia ombudsman as "self-serving," "opportunistic" and "indulgent."

The spending scandals left taxpayers in the two counties footing the bill for thousands of dollars in alcohol and travel. 

Rules requiring councils to post details on expenses related to travel, meals and professional development came into effect this fall, though municipalities have until June 2019 to make their first public post.

Most municipalities already posting

CBC surveyed the websites of all 50 municipalities and found that while most are already posting expenses, 15 have not yet done so. Some municipalities, including Truro, Argyle and Victoria, have posted in the past but haven't updated the information in months.

Mayor Bill Mills of Truro said the problem in his community is staffing. In the town of Pictou, where there have been no expenses posted yet, Mayor Jim Ryan said they are working out administrative issues.

But he said the town is committed to getting the information online.

Several other communities said they plan to post expenses in the near future, while others said they're updating their websites or dealing with staffing changes and are unsure when the information will be made available.

'For us it's very important'

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood said she was surprised to hear that some communities haven't yet started posting expenses.

Mayor Pam Mood of Yarmouth says her town has been posting expense information online since 2016. (Peter Dawson/Radio-Canada)

"For us it's very important that everything we do is transparent and that includes expenses," she said.

"Perhaps some of it is political will."

Her town has been posting expenses since 2016, months before the province set up a task force to review the rules.

Ombudsman's report, audit

That review was prompted, at least in part, by a 2016 ombudsman's report and forensic audit into spending practices at the Municipality of Richmond.

The Office of the Ombudsman of Nova Scotia investigated expenses filed by senior leadership of the Municipality of Richmond County. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

In April 2017, an ombudsman's report into spending in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough found that top officials, including former warden and current provincial cabinet minister Lloyd Hines, engaged in "indulgent" spending and "opportunistic" practices.

Receipts obtained by CBC News through freedom of information legislation showed thousands of dollars in alcohol expenses were claimed by elected and senior officials.

The municipality later brought in new expense policies limiting alcohol expenses to promotional and business development events and the province has changed the rules to prohibit municipal officials from claiming alcohol except in certain situations.

Who hasn't yet posted?

County and district municipalities that have not yet posted online:

  • Antigonish (Expects to post by January 2019)
  • Clare
  • Cumberland (Expects to post next month)
  • Inverness
  • Pictou (Expects to post next month)

Towns that have not yet posted online:

  • Antigonish
  • Berwick (Expects to post by January 2019)
  • Clarke's Harbour
  • Mulgrave
  • Oxford (Expects to post by January 2019)
  • Pictou (Expects to post by the end of March 2019)
  • Shelburne (Expects to post by the end of this month)
  • Trenton
  • Westville
  • Wolfville (Expects to post by the end of December)

Village surprised to learn of rule

The new expense reporting rules also apply to the province's 21 villages, something that came as a surprise to Murray Betts, the clerk of the village of Weymouth.

"I was not aware that we had to report anything," said Betts. "Our village commissioners are unpaid and none of them have any expense accounts."

Betts said the only expenses the village has paid for lately relate to doctor recruitment. Weymouth doesn't even have a website though Betts said he could post financial information on a local board of trade site.

While Weymouth has only 400 people, other villages have much larger populations.

In Bible Hill, with about 5,000 residents, clerk Mitchell Bell said expenses there have been posted annually for a number of years, so now the information will just have to be posted every three months instead.

"We have staff to do that and the information is handy, it's just one more step," said Bell.

About the Author

Pam Berman

Reporter

Pam Berman is CBC Nova Scotia's municipal affairs reporter. She's been a journalist for almost 35 years and has covered Halifax regional council since 1997. That includes four municipal elections, 19 budgets and countless meetings. Story ideas can be sent to pam.berman@cbc.ca