STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Mr. Howard Epstein
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning. This is a continuation of the meetings of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. We are here to continue our look at the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation. You will recall that when we left off last week, we had determined to issue an invitation to the Premier and the Minister of Finance to attend before us and speak to the issues of the interaction of the Premier's Office with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation and with the casino operator. As is evident, we have neither the Premier nor the Minister of Finance in the room this morning to appear before us. We do have, and I believe all members of the committee will have received, a letter from Mr. Downe in response to the invitation. I don't know if anything has been received in writing from the Premier's Office. I will ask the committee clerk if she can confirm what, if anything, she knows about the result of the invitation to the Premier's Office.
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator): There has been no response to the letter that I sent to the Premier's Office asking if he would respond to our request in writing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: As I said, it is evident that we don't have either the Minister of Finance or the Premier here this morning in response to the invitation. When we discussed methods of having witnesses appear in front of us earlier in the year, the committee determined that we would proceed by way of invitation, not by way of any form of compelling appearances. That is the approach that we have taken so far.
The question in front of us is how we wish to proceed. Although we haven't anything in writing from the Premier's Office, I am sure all members of the committee are aware that various statements have been made by officials in his office, through the press, that the Premier is not interested in appearing before the committee, particularly, and seems to think that answering questions in Question Period might be an appropriate alternative. If I can interpret what he says, he also suggests that the timing of our proposal might not be appropriate, although I am sure the committee would have been prepared and probably is still prepared to attempt to accommodate the Premier's schedule.
In any event, the matter before us is how we wish to now attempt to proceed. I have received a letter from Darrell Dexter and Mr. Dexter, perhaps you would like to speak to that.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, as you know, pursuant to the Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly, in order for us to proceed with the consideration of a summons, there must be a certificate filed with the committee requesting such a summons to be issued. I prepared this letter in contemplation that the committee may want to, in fact, seek a summons for the attendance of these two individuals and I have filed it with your office and it includes my statement that I believe the testimony that they will give is, in my opinion, material and relevant to this proceeding. So I am certainly prepared to make that motion and hear the other members of the committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. At this point, what I think we might usefully do is seek some advice from the Legislative Counsel. Let me outline what I think might be the nature of the legal constraints that apply so far as I understand them. We received, of course, earlier in the year, some written advice from Mr. Hebb about how to proceed should we wish to attempt to summon witnesses. I haven't spoken with Mr. Hebb again about this but let me summarize what I think we are dealing with. Rule 64 of the Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly does say that prior to any witnesses being summoned, a certificate of the form that Mr. Dexter referred to has to be filed with the chairman of the committee. After that, it is up to a majority vote whether such witnesses should be summoned. So that is what Rule 64 says.
Going along with that, you will recall that on the very first day of the meeting of the Legislature on May 21st, the Legislature, the House, adopted a motion that was made by the Premier that essentially gave powers to committees. This is to be found on Page 35 of Hansard for May 21st of this year. It establishes, or recognizes, the existence of standing committees of the House and says in Clause (a)(v), "the said committees be severally empowered to, from time to time, report to this House their observations and opinions, thereof, with power to send for and examine witnesses and records, and to extend to any witness the protection of the House;". So pursuant to that motion, it seems that the power to send for and examine witnesses and records is one that this committee does have.
To the extent that there might be any complication on this, it might arise from the provisions of the House of Assembly Act itself, Section 30(1) which is titled, "Power to compel attendance and production", states, "The House may at all times command and compel the attendance before the House, or before any committee, of such persons and the production of such papers and things as the House or committee deems necessary for any of its proceedings or deliberations.", and it goes on to talk about how that is actually done.
So the only question I think I have is whether the rules, Rule 64 and the resolution of the House, properly flow from the House of Assembly Act or whether they flow from any other powers? In general, I guess what I would like to hear from Mr. Hebb is what power, if any, this committee has or what route might be appropriate for compelling attendance of witnesses? Mr. Hebb, could you help us on this?
MR. GORDON HEBB (Legislative Counsel): Mr. Chairman, the powers of the committee do indeed stem from Section 30 of the House of Assembly Act. Following from that the House, as you point out, has done two things. There is Rule 64, which I think is quite clear, it purports to give the committee the power, provided the appropriate procedure is followed, to ask for a subpoena from the Speaker. In addition - and you have quoted from the resolution, which I don't have in front of me - I do have a quote, which was in my opinion of June 23rd, of the appropriate words, "with power to send for and examine witnesses.". So the House has both, in the resolution and the rules, purported, pursuant to Section 30, authorized the committee to follow this procedure.
I did raise a question in interpreting Section 30, in particular, Section 30(2) where it says, "Whenever the House requires the attendance of any person before the House or before any committee, the Speaker may issue a warrant, directed to the person named in the order of the House, requiring the attendance of such person before the House or committee, . . .". The question I raised in the letter was whether, in fact, you had to go back to the House to have the House specifically name the witnesses to appear before the committee.
In my opinion I do not think that is necessary, but I do raise it as a possible interpretation. When you look at what the House has done by its resolution, by its rules, and when you look at the authorities as to what powers the committees have, what the practice is in the federal House, it would appear that that step is not necessary, but I do point out that those words do say "whenever the House requires". Now there are a couple of ways of looking at that, you could say this is not a situation where the House requires the attendance, this is a situation where the committee requires the attendance.
The other question is - and it certainly is a valid interpretation - that the House has required the attendance of the witnesses in passing the rule and passing the resolution and has dealt with this. I just raise that question that someone might make the argument, and it is not my opinion but someone might make the argument, and although it doesn't say precisely that you might have to specifically say in the House resolution that what Section 30(2) means is
you must name the person; in other words I am saying - I am not saying it is - my opinion is that when we talk about the committee of legal counsel to the corporation, we are talking about 50/50 chances and so on. My opinion is not 100 per cent, but it is not 50/50 per cent.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think we have heard this before. I wonder if committee members have any questions for our legal counsel? I see Mr. Taylor and Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, just going back to the letter from committee member, MLA Mr. Darrell Dexter. I am having difficulty ascertaining what documents he is speaking of relevant to their offices, with regard to the Premier and the Finance Minister coming to the meeting. Perhaps Mr. Hebb could clarify as to whether or not there is a provision in the subpoena process to request that type of information, or is it strictly to summon the witnesses to appear before the committee?
MR. HEBB: No, the summons or the subpoena - the warrant the rule calls it - could order specific documents or it can be phrased in that general way. You may not know what documents that the witness that you wish to have appear has and so you may phrase it in general terms or you can be specific if you're aware of specific documents that you would like to hear but the power, if you look at Section 30, it does permit the production of such papers and things as are ordered. Now, I don't think it is not saying that, you know, because you don't necessarily know what papers a particular witness has and so you may have to coach it in general terms or you may be very specific as to particular papers.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I am only a substitute but I was a member of Public Accounts a couple of years ago for about one year and I can't remember the committee requesting presenters, witnesses, et cetera, who usually I guess always volunteer and come in, to bring specific documents. I am just wondering if it would be appropriate through you, Mr. Chairman, to ask MLA Dexter what documents he would be referring to because I think it is important that all committee members know exactly what we are talking about?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. TAYLOR: If there is a provision in the process, then we all must know what we are exactly asked and we are saying any documents, I think we should be specific.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think the advice we just got from Mr. Hebb was that, indeed, part of the subpoena could require the production of documents. The question you're raising is whether we are being too general here or whether we could be more specific.
MR. TAYLOR: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: As I read the letter from Mr. Dexter, what he is saying is for any documents relevant to their office's interaction with the casino operator. So that seems to be the focus of it but, Mr. Dexter, did you want to specify beyond that?
MR. DEXTER: Just that earlier on in these proceedings I talked about the release of documents and the government members at that time expressed their opinion about the full release of all documents and this committee, both here and as members of the Opposition in the Legislature, got commitments from the government to release all documents. I am simply asking if documents have not been released from their offices, which they had in their individual offices, that we would like to have them released.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Was there something you wanted to follow up on that, Mr. Taylor?
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, if we do go ahead and subpoena the Premier and the Finance Minister, I think we are leaving a lot to their discretion with that type of language, and if the member has specific documents in mind, he should say so and essentially tell all committee members what documents he might be referring to.
MR. DEXTER: But how would you know? I mean how would you know what documents unless (Interruption)
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, all I am saying then on the other hand the Premier and the Finance Minister may or may not bring documents. They may not bring any.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can I remind the committee of how we dealt with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation itself on this because we made the same kind of informal invitation to Ms. Gordon and Mr. Carl Holm to appear before the committee and to bring documents and what we said to them was this. Please come and bring with you any documents that you think are relevant to the matters that we are looking at. We did that because the alternative was that we arrange to go over there and go through all their files and then tell them what we want them to bring. It seemed somewhat of a cumbersome process and on the whole it was an expression of faith that they would bring forward a reasonably complete package of materials and if we felt that we were missing something, I think there was agreement that we would then ask them to bring additional documents. As I see it, that is I think what Mr. Dexter's motion would say, is bring what you think is relevant and if we either become aware of specific documents or we think from looking at the record that you do bring that perhaps something is missing, we will ask later on but that is as far as we have gotten so far. Mr. Fage.
MR. ERNEST FAGE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just wanted to raise a couple of issues to make sure that we are heading down the right track and just not playing politics. Mr. Chairman, if I may ask of you, has there ever been a subpoena delivered for a witness to the Public Accounts Committee in Nova Scotia before?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Fage, I do not know. Is anyone here able to help us out? Mr. Hebb, do you know?
MR. HEBB: I am not aware of one ever being served. I believe my office has on one occasion prepared one but it wasn't served. I guess perhaps the potential witness was made aware that the subpoena was available.
MR. FAGE: In that regard how much length of time expired between the request to have the witness appear and you developing the subpoena, one week, two weeks, two months?
MR. HEBB: I would have to look that up and see what the date of the subpoena was. As I say, I have heard of this and I had no involvement in it. It was quite a number of years ago.
MR. FAGE: Okay, if that is possible, before we make our . . .
MR. HEBB: I would have to find out from the Committee's Office when the person actually appeared, and put those together. I guess that would give you the information . . .
MR. FAGE: And that information may be pertinent to our discussions this morning. I feel that information should be here. Mr. Chairman, question to you, have you received a formal reply from the Premier yet?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I have not.
MR. FAGE: Why are we discussing, this morning, this request? I think it is very important that the Premier appears here, but if you haven't had a written reply from the Premier, it has been one week since we have sent the request, is this just political-mongering by Mr. Dexter, or are we actually here to find out the truth? I am concerned . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Actually, I think we had an implied response. The invitation that was issued by the committee last week was to appear today. Clearly, the Premier is not here. There is some indication, I think, through that, a very clear indication that he is not responding to that. The other indications that we have had have been only indirect and through the media. There has been no written response from the Premier's Office.
MR. FAGE: Therein lies, Mr. Chairman, my real concern. Here we have less than one week has transpired, we have a committee member wanting to issue a subpoena, which is the first time in history an elected official would have ever been subpoenaed, let alone anybody in Nova Scotia, to this committee. It is less than one week, we have no official reply. I, as an individual member, will clearly state today that I definitely want the Premier and I want the Finance Minister here as I was author of the motion to testify, but I feel it may be premature
until we have a written response that members would be submitting written requests to have a subpoena delivered. That is my concern that some of this discussion may be premature. Let's have some answers first, and the conjecture second.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can I ask, all right, we will leave discussions for a bit. Ms. Godin.
MS. ROSEMARY GODIN: I find it quite distressing that we have not received any response. I think a week is certainly ample time. Don Downe was able to give us his response. I can only interpret the lack of response as disrespect for this committee. There are 52 MLAs in this province, and not one of us is above the law, or should be treated any differently than any other person in Nova Scotia. I say that the Premier is probably going to go on ignoring this committee and being disrespectful, and I say, let's subpoena the Premier as soon as possible.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon.
HON. RUSSELL MACKINNON: I agree with Ms. Godin that no member is above or should be above the law, but I believe that my experience on this committee has shown that I have been pretty fair-minded, both when we are on the government side and also when we were in Opposition. I have a number of concerns, Mr. Chairman, the way this entire process is starting to evolve.
First of all, I am starting to question, even to myself, what really is the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee? Where are we going on this issue? It has been described by one of the Opposition members themselves that it has become an obsession with certain individuals on the committee. I have listened to perhaps more than 10 presenters before the committee on this very issue and I have seen no evidence of political interference.
I guess if you want to get into the parochial view and try to define what political interference is as opposed to intervention by a government that is mandated to fulfil its leadership roles. I have a grave concern as to where this entire process is going. We have many important pressing issues to deal with, but that is a sidebar. My limited experience in dealing with legal matters, generally, you would have to have a basis for a subpoena. Simply advocating a political position or an intent to go and look for something, because after 10 presentations we haven't found anything to satisfy our political quest, seems to me kind of stretching the limits of not only our political but our legal and public obligation as public servants.
We have had one person come forth with a complaint, Mr. Fiske. To date, I have seen little or no evidence to substantiate some of the most outlandish accusations I have ever heard put before this committee.
The reputations, the professional credentials of many professionals, some of whom have not even appeared before this committee - the inference has been made of some type of a nefarious, diabolical plot for some political or personal gain. I find that most offensive. That is one issue I take.
The second issue is, how do you defend the rights of the individual sitting members before the House? Are we going to - perhaps if we were in a majority situation - take it upon ourselves to kind of club down on a particular individual? What if we were to decide as a committee to subpoena Mr. Matheson before this committee because of the numerous complaints I received because he has set up and advertised for a public office of service to the public. There does not seem to be any evidence of that. I can attest by the number of calls that come to my office. We question, well, are we getting good value for the money? Are we keeping good accountability of our tax dollars? There are many things that we could extrapolate from this.
I am very concerned about what is really happening to the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee. If it is going to become some type of a forum for a quasi-judicial witch- hunt for some political purpose, I have a grave concern. If there is evidence to support a subpoena, great, then let's hear the evidence Quite frankly, I haven't heard it and I'm not speaking as a partisan politician, I'm speaking from what I believe to be true.
The Premier has indicated, publicly, he is prepared to answer any and all questions that are brought before the House. The House is opening tomorrow. We have Question Period; we have Opposition Days, we have House Orders. We have day after day - if the media want to take on - as sometimes they do - an Opposition role and be very inquisitive, they can scrum the Premier seven days for Sunday if they wish. They can do it very effectively and I have seen them do it. To start stretching the limits with a very weak basis, I have a grave concern.
I think we had better start focusing on what some of the major issues are here in the province as well. Not that this isn't a major issue. It is a major issue if there is some evidence of major concern. I haven't seen any political impropriety. I haven't seen anybody caught in any nefarious deal, extrapolating or taking and walking away with taxpayers' money. If there are other issues that we are dealing with, simply state it. Let's not play this political acrimonious game that seems to be developing here.
I am very concerned about what is happening to the Public Accounts Committee. We have the QE II issue; we have major concerns about deficits in the hospital; we have major concerns with . . .
MR. TAYLOR: Roads, roads.
MR. MACKINNON: Well, roads, a lot of expenditures. We have concerns with Sable - the offshore gas, the gas and oil industry. We have major concerns here. At what point in time are we going to put this NDP political obsession to sleep? I mean, if there is some basis for a subpoena, show it.
Mr. Dexter is a legal mind. Any judge in the legal system does not issue a subpoena unless there is a basis for it. You don't issue it because you're on a witch-hunt or let's go shopping and see if we can find something in somebody's closet. Let's get with the real world. I mean, I'm really concerned about where this whole process is going.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, I suppose if there is nothing in it, it will be easy for the Premier to come here and say so. I thought the issue was whether he would appear. Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. NEIL LEBLANC: I guess the reason you issue subpoenas is because the people do not want to come forward to Public Accounts.
I have been part of these hearings and they have been long. I will not argue that we have had a lot of different witnesses come forward. I don't agree with your comments that you have never heard anything that was at odds with the government's position. I tend to think that there have been numerous occasions and I have got some concerns.
I look at the situation that, in my opinion, it would be beneficial to bring the Premier before the Public Accounts Committee. The technical way that you have to ask questions and the time restraints that you have make it very difficult to do Question Period on this issue. I think it would be better served if they would come here on their own.
Whether the subpoena is the way to go, I don't know. Mr. Fage has indicated that, perhaps, we haven't given them sufficient time to come forward. Mr. Downe, in a sense - I have read his correspondence - doesn't refuse to come. It is his opinion that Question Period would be the appropriate forum to ask it. I tend to disagree with that opinion.
I look at the Liberal Party. On numerous occasions you have said you wanted an open forum as much as possible because there is nothing to hide. Let's get everybody coming forward. We will bring all the witnesses forward and by such, we will bring some closure to this. If there is nothing to hide, then you come forward to the Public Accounts Committee and we ask in a relaxed atmosphere. That will be easier for the Premier to make comments and submissions that he wouldn't be restricted by the Question Period process also.
To come back to the subpoena, I ask the same question as my colleague as to whether or not a week is sufficient. I am of the opinion that I guess, in a sense, if you put it in a nutshell to both witnesses, that we are prepared to go with the subpoena, I am not sure whether we have to humble them. I am not in any way, shape or form trying to go on a witch-hunt and to have to humble the Premier to come before the Public Accounts Committee because we have to issue a subpoena.
At the same time, we have rights as members of this committee and we can exercise those rights if we so wish. I am not sure whether or not we have to go with this process in a sense of saying - putting both witnesses on notice that if they so refuse to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, then we shall exercise our rights and subpoena them.
It is a fine point and it is one that I would much rather them comply with voluntarily. I think it would better served for everybody if they do so. Perhaps the way to go about it is to put both witnesses on - what is the word I want to say - notice that we would much more prefer that they come voluntarily, whether we give them a deadline by this Friday to indicate in writing or verbally to the chairman what their position is and then we, as a committee, subsequent to that notification will make a decision.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think this is a helpful comment in terms of focusing our debate. I think we have already unanimously decided we wanted the two to appear as witnesses. The real question here is whether we are going to take the step of compelling their attendance or whether we are going to continue to offer a second opportunity by way of invitation.
I have Mr. Dexter and then Mr. Fraser.
MR. DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I just wanted to point out to the committee that my filing of the letter was in compliance with Rule 64(1). Indeed, unless you file with the committee such a letter then your option to proceed with the subpoena is not there. Essentially, what I have done is I have broadened the ability of the committee to pursue this. There are new options in this way.
What we are doing now is discussing Mr. Fage's point which is, have there been sufficient communications with the Premier's Office, has he been afforded the time to respond to our request? If there is some impediment to his appearance before this committee, to explain what it is. It would certainly be in the best interests of this committee to try to accommodate the Premier's schedule if that is possible.
What we have seen through Mr. Downe's response and also through the Premier's public utterances was just the unwillingness to appear. That is what I think is troubling because this is a committee of the House and I think we have the right to demand the respect of all the members of the House, including the Premier and the minister responsible for the
Gaming Corporation. If they are not prepared to appear in a timely manner, then we should at least explore the options that are available to us.
One last point, Mr. Chairman, and that is with respect to the question of the issuance of a subpoena. Perhaps Mr. Hebb can elaborate on this. My understanding is that the issuance of a subpoena takes very little time to draft, and it would simply be a question of the availability of the Speaker to issue the subpoena, would it not?
MR. HEBB: Yes, and there is the question Mr. Fage raises as to how much of a time period. Certainly in the courts, subpoenas have been issued within hours on witnesses, but it is not the preferred practice. The preferred practice is to give witnesses as much lead time on appearing as is possible.
MR. LEBLANC: So, if I could follow that, basically you are indicating that if there was a subpoena issued, the Premier and the Minister of Finance wouldn't have to appear tomorrow, there would be a reasonable time for them to come forward before the committee, is that it? I am trying to understand what you are saying.
MR. HEBB: The committee would have to make the determination to ask the Speaker for a subpoena, and the committee, in its decision, would have to specify a date that they are asking the witness to appear, and you could decide whatever date you want, and that would have to leave at least sufficient time for that subpoena to be served upon the witnesses that you are requesting to come. There has to be sufficient time to get the subpoena to them and then they would have an obligation to appear.
MR. LEBLANC: Can I make a motion, Mr. Chairman, or is there someone ahead of me?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, I actually have three people who have a desire to speak: Mr. Fraser, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Samson, in that order, and then I will certainly return to you if you want to make a motion.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: I am just going to concur with some of the statements made by the honourable member across from me, Mr. MacKinnon. It has been four months since we first heard of the allegations from Ralph Fiske; we have now met on eight occasions to hear testimony from witnesses based on those allegations; and we have heard from 10 witnesses who are politicians and professionals involved in the Gaming Corporation. I think the testimony has made it clear to this committee that the allegations by Mr. Fiske have not been substantiated or confirmed by any of the witnesses. If anything, the evidence we have heard has called into question Mr. Fiske's actual testimony and credibility.
I point out, first of all, witnesses clearly indicated that the Premier's Office got involved at the request of Mr. Fiske; he has the tendency to act behind the back of the Gaming Corporation in a unilateral and arbitrary way; regulations passed recently in regard to gaming were actually put forward by Mr. Fiske to Cabinet as far back as 1996 on the premise that changes were good for gaming in the province; Mr. Fiske as Chairman was unbending, unyielding and uncompromising, as we have heard from witnesses; he lost total perspective and was, in the end, ineffective as the chairman; and finally, Mr. Fiske asked an employee of the Gaming Corporation to copy him confidential documents from the corporation well after he had left their employment.
Mr. Chairman, this committee should be commended for its in-depth probe of these allegations. We have allowed those accused by Mr. Fiske to answer the allegations. A total of 10 witnesses were heard from and each has categorically denied any of the allegations. I think the time has come to move on; in simple terms, this issue is dead. There is no further useful information that would be beneficial to this committee and, as government members on this committee, we feel it is our duty to address more important items that are affecting Public Accounts in this province, as Mr. MacKinnon has stated.
The matter, from day one, was an obsession by you, Mr. Chairman, and your caucus members. All attempts to make this into a Casinogate have failed and, instead, we are left with Dextergate, and I think something like this, presented today, way before its time, as Mr. Fage has indicated, we don't even have a response yet, we haven't had seven days really for the Premier of this province to respond to that. I think this is garbage coming forth today.
The people of Nova Scotia have told us to move on. Our rough estimates - which do not reflect copying of the vast amounts of documents we have received - show the cost of about $5,000 each time we meet; therefore, while the casino hasn't cost the taxpayers of this province any money, this investigation has already cost over $45,000. I believe it is time to move on. Thank you.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, there has been a lot said about this whole issue and the controversy surrounding the casino, the extensions that were granted, and so on and so forth, but I do think the committee must try to bring this to closure. I know last week when we supported the request going out to the Premier and the Finance Minister, the members did support the motion. We have a motion on record requesting them to appear. We have a letter from the Minister of Finance clearly indicating that he feels in the House during Question Period would be a more appropriate forum. We have information through the media, more especially that the Premier's Office has been saying that he feels, too, that Question Period is a more appropriate venue.
I would just like to be on record, Mr. Chairman, as saying that the Public Accounts Committee would, in my view, be a more acceptable and appropriate forum for the Premier and the Finance Minister to appear. We should, and I believe perhaps my colleague, the
member for Argyle, is going to put a motion before the committee shortly, perhaps once again send out a letter to the Premier and to the Finance Minister indicating very clearly, making it very explicit, that we do not accept the argument that Question Period is a more appropriate forum. We have to send that message to them because that is what they are saying.
We all know and the Minister of Labour indicated that there are many, many issues that we priorize, Health, Education, Transportation, et cetera, but in the House you try to go around the gambit so to speak, around the different departments to ask question that are very important. In the Public Accounts Committee you have an opportunity for a more sustained interrogation, if you will, or question period, whatever you want to call it. So I do not buy the Premier's argument or the Finance Minister's argument that it is more appropriate to deal with this during Question Period. We all know that there are certainly more questions asked than there are answered. Having said that I will pass on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Taylor. I have Mr. Samson and Ms. Godin, then Mr. Dexter and Mr. LeBlanc to see if we are ready because we will have been around to all members of the committee at that point and we may be ready for a motion. Mr. Fage wants to speak again, is this before or after the motion?
MR. FAGE: Before please.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, Mr. Samson.
MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Taylor, following up on what you have just said I do not think any of us have questioned the argument of what is more appropriate, the committee or Question Period. The question you have to ask yourself, Mr. Taylor, is when you go back to your constituency and you talk to your constituents and they look at the cost of what this committee has already spent on looking at this issue and your constituents ask you, what is the purpose of calling the Premier and the Minister of Finance and what information do you expect to get from them? I would be very curious, Mr. Taylor, to see what your answer would be.
I think your answer would be like what our answer is, that there is nothing left. We have heard all of the information, we have heard from the Premier's Deputy Minister, who as I am sure you will appreciate, Mr. Taylor, is the confidant of the Premier and he was rigorously questioned and clearly gave us his answers. We have to ask ourselves, what further information is there that the Premier or the Minister of Finance are going to give to this committee? I submit to you that there is no further information. We have had 10 witnesses before us. This is our ninth occasion on this very issue and we have heard everything that there possibly is to hear on this and there is just nothing there. That is the issue.
Mr. Chairman, I am sure some of the members of your caucus will claim that this is an attempt by the government members to do a cover-up here to avoid questioning by the Premier and the Minister of Finance. I would point out to you that in fact it is the government members who have made the motion to have the vast majority of witnesses appear before this committee, unlike what your Leader has claimed in the press that it was the NDP caucus leading the charge in calling the witnesses; in fact, it is the government members of this committee who have actually made the motion to bring the vast majority of witnesses before us.
Now one of my greatest concerns with this issue of subpoena is the precedent that we are setting. Sure there is no question that the Rule Book does clearly give this power to the committee but, Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, government members of this committee have clearly lost confidence in your ability as a Chairman for this committee. From day one, you, like the members of your caucus have been obsessed with this idea of Casinogate. Your behaviour as chairman has clearly indicated that. Mr. Chairman, with all due respect you are not Ken Starr and this is not Watergate; this is not even Casinogate, this is Dextergate. It is a dead issue and while Ms. Godin may sing the doom and gloom of gaming, we are the Public Accounts Committee, not the moral squad. We are here to look at the Public Accounts of this province.
Mr. Chairman, your inability to be impartial was clearly shown when after your caucus made a motion to have this grand inquiry meet for a week, a week and one-half or two weeks on this issue was defeated, you then went on to the media and stated that the reason for the defeat of that motion was because the Tory members of this committee were too lazy to sit for a week.
Mr. Fage, himself, read word for word your comments which clearly indicated that was your belief as to why the motion was defeated and not for any other reasons of scheduling or members' timing, but the fact that you felt the Tory members were just too lazy to have this grand inquiry which you felt was going to be the tell-all of this.
Mr. Chairman, you have acted unilaterally on several occasions in sending questions and in doing things without the committee's consent. It is our statement at this point that we feel it is time for a report and it is time for closure. I almost feel like I am back with the Workers' Compensation Committee in talking about closure and the frustration encountered by people with workers' compensation. Well, the same thing has come with the Public Accounts Committee. It is time for closure.
I respectfully submit to you that if we subpoena the Premier and the Minister of Finance, that the motion by Mr. Dexter will next be to call possibly Manning MacDonald as Chairman of P & P and just go down the list of Cabinet Ministers and see if we can't go fishing there and hope to hook a line. The idea of subpoenaing the Premier and requesting that he bring documents, whatever he thinks relevant, we have seen in the past that when such
broad requests were made and after we have had witnesses before us, Mr. Dexter has gone in front of the media and talked in riddles about how, well, they are lawyers and they know how to present themselves and she is an accountant, she knows how to talk like an accountant, leaving the impression with the people of Nova Scotia that those who appear before us lied or were not truthful.
I make the challenge right now to Mr. Dexter, and any other member of this committee who feels that we have been lied to, to call a spade a spade and go on the record and call them liars. If not, I would ask that Mr. Dexter, and others who have made such comments, apologize to those who appeared before us for leaving the impression that somehow they were deceitful or that they lied to this committee. That was not fair and if Mr. Dexter feels that we have been lied to, let him go on the record and say it but I am sure as a member of the Bar he is too careful and too smart to do that.
Mr. Chairman, as I stated earlier, it is time for a report to be done on this and for closure and on that issue we feel that it is time to ask an independent justice which, unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, does not include you, to do this report and to bring closure on this. We will not support in any way any sort of report or any sort of action which would see you, Mr. Chairman, try to put an end to this issue or try to place a report on this.
Honourable members of the committee, as I said earlier, we have to ask ourselves what precedent are we setting here. I have already clearly stated that the government members of this caucus have lost faith in the Chairman and I respectfully submit to you that I am very concerned about what direction we are taking here and what power we are giving to the Chairman in sending these subpoenas out without even getting a reply stating that someone is not going to appear before us. I would remind the honourable members that it was while the Chairman was a councillor on Halifax City Council he saw fit to call in the police on his own council members to investigate them. (Interruption)
Honourable members, I respectfully submit to you that in the eyes of Nova Scotians and in the eyes of the members of the House, the Public Accounts Committee has become nothing but a joke. We are a circus and the Chairman is our ringmaster. We are putting him on a soapbox, allowing him to go in the media calling the Tories lazy, claiming that there is more out there that we haven't seen when there clearly is not. Honourable members, let's keep in mind here that the purpose by Mr. Dexter and the Chairman in calling the Premier and Minister Downe before us is not to question them on the allegations raised by Mr. Fiske, it is for gross political opportunism to try to embarrass the Premier and the minister on other issues which in no way relate to Mr. Fiske's allegations.
Mr. Chairman, you are on the record in the media as exactly stating that that is why you feel the Premier and Minister Downe will not appear before us, not because they fear asking questions about Mr. Fiske's allegations, but because of fear of other embarrassing things that you and your members might bring up against the Premier. I submit to you, as
honourable Minister MacKinnon said, we should not make this into a witch-hunt. We have to ask ourselves, where is this going to stop?
As I represented to Mr. LeBlanc, a former Minister of the Crown, maybe Mr. Chairman will see fit to maybe start calling members of the previous administration, our previous government, the Progressive Conservative Government, and start questioning some of their behaviour when they were there. There is just no end to this and if we start opening up this can of worms and giving the Chairman his soapbox that he so wants, this is what we are opening up here. So let's be realistic. There is no end to this. If we start sending out these subpoenas, when people haven't even said that they don't want to appear before us, we have to ask ourselves what we are dealing with here.
Mr. Chairman, the idea of asking the Premier to bring what he considers relevant documents is such a broad statement that it is completely preposterous. I respectfully submit to you, Mr. Taylor, that that would be like me asking you to bring all relevant documents about issues concerning roads that you have raised in your time as MLA. I would ask you: how much time would it take you to go through all your documents, or what you would see fit, on the issue of roads? And to Mr. LeBlanc, I would ask: what if we were to ask you to bring all documents where you have ever raised concerns about the fishery? These are just such broad concerns that they are preposterous.
Let's be realistic here. We all know, as MLAs, how much documentation we have and how much stuff we deal with every day. To tell the Premier to please bring all documents which you feel might be relevant to this committee is so broad, and we just know that even if the Premier did bring them here, Mr. Dexter would come back and say, well, we think there may be something else there the Premier didn't bring, and the Premier is the Premier, he is a politician, again bringing up the allegations or leaving the impression that we were lied to.
There is no end to this. There is nothing left out there, I submit to you. The recent article by Parker Barss Donham, one of the four people in this province who still think there is a conspiracy here, in his article, Mr. Parker Barss Donham goes on at the end and states, "Since blowing the whistle, Fiske has suffered personal attacks on his integrity and credibility. Each time he has fired back. Stay tuned folks, this one isn't over yet.".
Mr. Chairman, honourable members, after each time we have met, we have received correspondence from Mr. Fiske through his solicitor, Mr. MacIntosh. I submit to you, Mr. Fiske's gun is empty, there are no bullets left. I will point your attention to the fact that this week we did not receive correspondence. Sheila Butler was a star witness, the only witness left to back up Mr. Fiske's allegations. She obviously didn't do that. I submit to you that even Mr. Fiske himself has accepted that this issue is over and that there is nothing left for us to probe. If there was, I submit to you that he would have, like every other week, suggested questions or suggested other matters we look into, and that wasn't done.
Honourable members, Mr. Fiske has given up. It is time for us to give up and accept that we have done a great job here. We have looked into this and we have allowed anyone who has asked to appear before us to appear before us. We have been fair, but now we are into the stage where, because the NDP caucus doesn't feel it is getting answers it wants, it feels compelled to start hauling in witnesses and doing this fishing expedition to see if we can't hook onto something. That is what this has become. We have gone from a committee allowing people to come defend themselves or present their concerns to a committee which is going and hauling people off the street to ask them questions to see what we can pick up from them. That is basically what it has come down to.
What is next? That is what we have to ask ourselves. We have wasted over $45,000 of the taxpayers' money on this issue. This is our ninth time meeting on this issue. I submit to you, in ending, that we have to ask ourselves, in being realistic, even though we do send a subpoena to the Premier and to Minister Downe, that we have to be respectful of allowing them to appear before us when their schedule permits. I am sure Mr. LeBlanc, as a former Minister of the Crown, will certainly appreciate that while the House is in session, a minister's time is quite taken up outside of the House, and that their schedule is quite busy. In fact, I made a call to Mr. Downe's office, and it was indicated that Mr. Downe would not be available to appear before this committee until late November and the Premier's Office indicated that it would be at least December before his schedule would permit him to appear before us and, at that, they would have to be cancelling appointments to do that.
We have to ask ourselves, when is there going to be closure? Even though we send out these subpoenas, and even though they come before us, we are looking at a month, a month and a half, two months, before we can actually take care of this. So when is it going to end? Is each member ready to go back to their constituencies and say that we think we are spending your money wisely in keeping this going? That is what we have to ask.
I want it to be on the record that the government members of this committee feel that this is a waste of the taxpayers' money. We do not support this investigation continuing, and we will oppose the issuing of a subpoena or the calling of any further witnesses on this issue which is clearly over. It is time for us to move on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, thank you for those useful comments. I will draw them to the attention of Mr. Chisholm, who appoints the chair of this committee. I am sure he will give them the weight they deserve. Mr. Dexter.
MR. DEXTER: I believe Ms. Godin was on the list before me.
MR. CHAIRMAN: All right. Ms. Godin. My apologies.
MS. GODIN: Mr. Chairman, it is really refreshing to hear members of the Liberal Party being so concerned about costs; let's hope that this new attitude continues. As far as the government or the Party or this committee not being a moral squad - the moral squad I think is what Mr. Samson said - I think that is a really big problem. I noticed that as Mr. Samson was speaking, he refrained from referring to his own words on July 15th and if I could read them into the record, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Samson said, "The government members of this committee oppose any motion that this committee shut down or move to another issue . . . We, as members of the Government of Nova Scotia, are prepared to provide this committee with the entire side of this story which we ourselves are committed to hearing on our own. It is our duty, as members of this committee, to ensure that all sides of this issue have been exposed.".
I do not think it has come to that yet and the point now is that this Premier has chosen to flaunt his position in the face of this committee and the people of Nova Scotia. What message does his non-appearance send to Nova Scotians? Question Period is not the right venue. We cannot get the in-depth answers that we are looking for and the other pitfall of Question Period is there are other issues that will take our time in the House that we want to get to and that is why we do not accept the offer of coming to Question Period.
Mr. Samson, we would like closure too. Well, you laugh, but it is not going to come until our last two witnesses appear before us. If they had been here today, perhaps we could be getting on with other business next week. You spoke about people looking at this committee as a joke. Well, I think it is the Premier who looks at this committee as a joke, not the people of Nova Scotia. As far as I am concerned, as a legislator I am embarrassed that this committee has to subpoena our own Premier to come before us. Obviously seven seconds of silence was not enough for Mr. MacLellan and I would like to see him appear.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Dexter, Mr. Fage and then Mr. LeBlanc, for your motion.
MR. DEXTER: Ms. Godin makes a very good point and that is the whole question of the public policy issue that is raised here. What do you do to the legitimacy and the authority of a committee when the Premier of the province refuses to respond to the invitation of the committee to appear? Why would other members of the public agree to appear if the Premier himself denigrates the committee by refusing to appear and refusing to provide the committee with the information that it requests?
Mr. Samson has referred to the problem of setting a precedent. Well, this is a problem because if you set a precedent at this level where the Premier refuses to, in fact, comply with his obligation, which is both as a member of the Legislature and as a citizen of this province to appear before this committee for the purposes of putting forward the information requested, I have grave difficulties with that.
I want to make one more point and I have to say it is with some sadness that I make this point. I am distressed by Mr. Fraser referring to my work as garbage. I think that is inappropriate language and I think it is unparliamentary and I think it is unfair. It is certainly not the way of dealing with matters before this committee. It is certainly not an appropriate way to deal with the exercise of the privilege of members of this committee.
I am also distressed that Mr. Samson continues to refer to this committee as a joke, as a circus. If he is so unhappy with the work of this committee, then perhaps he should resign and let someone else sit on this committee who is prepared to take the work of this committee seriously. It certainly is unfortunate when they complain about degenerating into partisanship, but that is what they do every single time they appear here. Thank you.
MR. FAGE: Mr. Chairman, my earlier intervention was about due process. I think due process for all members of this committee, the institution of this committee and the House, is extremely important. That is why upon such facts as having Mora check how long it took before the last subpoena was issued, the episode began in September, the actual subpoena was going to be delivered to the gentleman in January and that's why it is extremely important to this committee in my view. Has the Premier refused to appear before this committee to you in writing or has he phoned or not? We have to have those things properly put in place before we play politics with a subpoena because that becomes part of due process and political expediency and, yes, you know, politics becomes part of this committee.
You, yourself, accused this Party, the PC Party members of being lazy and why things weren't proceeding fast but also we took a two week sabbatical while you attended a conference in Yellowknife this summer. Those things are all part of due process. Those things concern me when that becomes the chairman's role in depicting members and Parties in the paper as being lazy or not there for the good intent. I think every member of this committee is here for good intent and they are here for specific reasons and there is not a member, regardless of what Party, in this room right now representing their Party and their constituency in the Public Accounts Committee that aren't concerned about what is happening.
The issue of whether the Premier and the Finance Minister should appear, I feel very strongly that they must testify before this committee but we have to do it under the right conditions and with due process. When we look at other witnesses that have been called in this nine week period, some of them waited two weeks, three weeks, and we attended them. Sometimes they didn't return your phone call until a week later, 10 days, two weeks. Why would we show up here demanding a subpoena in seven days, to treat it differently? That is my concern about the credibility of this committee and its members; due process must be done with this committee. That is why I would raise that issue and talk a little bit about political expediency.
If the minister, if the Premier is concerned about the deficit, I think it is clearly evident with evidence shown today by the government members that it is $5,000 in their estimate of the cost here. Well, if they were concerned, maybe they would have showed up this week. Everybody finds time in their schedule and I am sure the Premier and the minister can for re-juggling and if they want closure, the quickest way to have closure on this issue is for the Premier and the Minister of Finance to appear before this committee and answer the questions. I think that's what many members of this committee have been asking for the last week or two. Let's get the job done. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. LEBLANC: Thank you very much. I would like to say a few things. First of all, I have been a Minister of the Crown, as Mr. Samson has pointed out, and one thing in politics that I learned is that you schedule changes all the time. I look at the Minister of Finance. He was supposed to speak at the Chamber of Commerce dinner in Yarmouth two weeks ago and the last second, the very morning he was supposed to speak, he cancelled because he had his quarterly report being tabled and so people in our area were disappointed; someone had to fill in for him. I am pointing out that we modify our schedules and to say as a Cabinet Minister that I wouldn't have the time to appear before this committee, that's incorrect. We basically prioritize our time and we make modifications as required and I don't think that's an acceptable solution to say that you can't come here for a month and one-half. I am sure if there was an announcement and someone came in who was opening a new industry, the Premier would be there. If you think he wouldn't be, I think we're all fooling ourselves. So to say that they can't make the time, I think is incorrect.
The other point is the concern about the expenses and you mentioned the fact that it has cost $45,000. I tend to question that. When you look at the Department of Health, you have Dan Reid working along with Jim Smith where no one really knows what he is supposed to be doing and he is costing this province $100,000, or whatever the number is. You ask yourself where your priorities are. So let's not get into the question of expense. I think that's another issue.
I will bring up another point, that if we do bring the people in and I think the concern as to whether we want to specify that the questions will be related to gambling, our Party has no intention of bringing the Premier or the Minister of Finance in to this forum to ask him questions other than on the Gaming Corporation. There were no false pretenses that we want to bring him here so we can ask him questions on Sysco or some other issue that's there. I will give assurances to the members of this committee that our Party will not basically do this in bad faith and if we're going to bring those witnesses in, we're asking them to talk about gaming, the Gaming Corporation. I will make that as a motion.
To bring this to some closure here today, and I made mention before in conjunction with what Mr. Fage had said, that for ourselves is to give sufficient time to the Premier to answer, and I think he has well outlined his concerns as to whether we have given him time, I would make a motion that this committee communicate through the Chairman to the two witnesses that we do, indeed, want their presence to come to this committee to speak specifically and only - I do not know about the word only but I am trying to think of the exact terminology but I think the understanding is - to speak with regard to the Gaming Corporation and its activities and their roles in that capacity. Also, if they so choose to ignore our request, there is a motion on file which would initiate a subpoena request for them to appear before this committee. So they are aware of the consequences of refusing it.
I would suggest that if we could have the answer by next Tuesday so that at next Wednesday's meeting we would be able to address this, that that would be sufficient time so both witnesses could prepare an answer and we would like to have that answer in writing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: And might we add to this that we invite them to make suggestions to us of dates on which they might be available?
MR. LEBLANC: The timing is a good point. I go back to Mr. Samson's comments that the Premier cannot come until December and that Don Downe cannot come until late November. I totally find that unacceptable and would say within the next three weeks or something like that. I am opening this for debate among the members as to what is a reasonable time.
MR. MACKINNON: Perhaps I am looking for some legal advice here, Neil.
MR. LEBLANC: Go ahead.
MR. MACKINNON: I know any member of the House cannot be subpoenaed while the House is . . .
MR. LEBLANC: On a civil matter. I researched that before I made the motion.
MR. MACKINNON: On a civil matter. I don't know, I am just thinking out loud.
MR. HEBB: I certainly have not considered that question but my reaction off the top, what you are not allowed to do is interfere with the business of the House by that process outside of the House. If it is the House itself that is doing something, I do not see how that would be considered an interference.
MR. LEBLANC: Mr. Chairman, I researched that before I asked the question. The fact of the matter is that you would have to interfere with the sitting of the House. We meet before the House sits during the session and I considered that before making the request.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just for anyone listening to clarify this point, during the time that the House is in session it has been the habit of this committee to meet at 8:00 a.m., specifically so that it does not conflict with the timing of the sitting of the House itself. Mr. Taylor.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, I just want to speak in support of the motion and perhaps I could inform Mr. Samson whereas he indicated that we may not have questions as a committee for the Premier and the Finance Minister, I should tell Mr. Samson that during Question Period, on average, and Hansard will confirm this, we get between 20 and 24 questions and records will indicate in the Public Accounts Committee that you can ask upwards of 50 questions depending on the length of the presentation. Our records and research indicate you have an opportunity to ask far more questions.
Mr. Samson, also, please keep in mind that an errors list was presented to this committee on May 20th that indicated that the province, the taxpayers may have lost $27 million. That has been refuted by different members of the Gaming Corporation so we still have some questions relative to that. We might have questions about a casino where the construction has stopped. So there are a number of questions we could ask the Premier. The Premier agreed to the extensions and to different concessions, so we do have a number of questions that we can ask. I do not think they will be sitting waiting for questions, it will not be a problem.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion seems to embody the discussion that emerged a little earlier so I am hoping members might not extensively debate this but I do have Mr. Fraser who wishes to speak and, apparently, Mr. Samson as well.
MR. FRASER: I am just wondering why Minister Downe is being invited if he was not the Minister of Finance in charge of the Gaming Corporation at any time during negotiations. He was only appointed the Minister of the Crown responsible for that this year. I am wondering are we going to get into today's, are we still talking about trying to refute or support the allegations made by Mr. Fiske up until his time, which was a year ago.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, this point, I think, was dealt with last week when the original motion, which was to invite the Premier was amended, by I think, Mr. Fage, to extend to the present Minister of Finance. It wasn't debated, I think, at the time, and has been unanimously adopted by the committee, and I think is reaffirmed in the motion that is in front of us today. I take your point, but I think it is something that will perhaps guide the conduct of the questioning that comes forward from members of the committee when we finally have the minister in front of us. Mr. Samson.
MR. SAMSON: I regret that Mr. LeBlanc is not here, because I was going to propose an amendment to his motion. This is basically an addition to his motion - and I put the challenge out to the NDP caucus - that we put in the motion that the Premier and Minister Downe are to be the last witnesses to be called on this issue, so that there is closure. If there is the closure that they seek, and they feel that the Premier and the minister are the last straw here, that they are the last ones that they want to question, and that they have no more they want to question on this issue, I put the challenge to you right now, and to tell Nova Scotians, we are going to put closure to this, and these will be the final two witnesses to be called on this issue.
I put that challenge to the NDP. If they are going to hold up to what they are saying, that these are the final two people they want to hear from, put that in the motion so that Nova Scotians know that there is closure to this and we are going to move on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think the issue of who else, if anyone, the committee wishes to hear on this matter is one that is on the agenda to deal with today. It is a separate agenda item; it is the second agenda item.
MR. SAMSON: I moved that it be made with the amendment, and I ask that that be put in, and that it be put to a vote, I don't care when it is scheduled.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. LeBlanc has joined us again.
Mr. Samson is proposing an amendment that would say that the Premier and the Minister of Finance be the last witnesses heard by the committee on this subject. I was suggesting to him that this is a separate agenda item; that is what agenda item number two for today has to do with. I just wanted to let you know that this motion has been made. This motion, I take it, is now being made by Mr. Samson as an amendment. Okay. Comment, Mr. LeBlanc?
MR. LEBLANC: I fully intend that these would be the last witnesses that we intend to call. I have said on prior occasions that we would, probably even before these witnesses were called, that we should bring it to a head. The problem that comes with that is that if something happens in a week and a half - that is the only problem that comes in - say that we are sitting here and say that we refuse to call any more witnesses, if suddenly someone would bring up information that changes, I don't know how you can make that assurance. I stand here today and fully intend that these are the last two witnesses that our Party intends to call.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Quite obviously it is not accepted as a friendly amendment. I think the amendment as proposed is clear. We will turn to this item again as sub-item two . . .
MR. SAMSON: Mr. Chairman, I asked that it be put to a vote.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Oh, I am about to put it to a vote. Recognizing that this does not preclude further discussion of how the committee wishes to proceed, which we will have under the next agenda item, I will now ask the committee members to vote on the proposed amendment. The proposed amendment being that the Premier and the Minister of Finance be the last witnesses.
Would all those in favour of the amendment to the motion, please indicate with your hands. That is three in favour. Any members opposed? Five opposed.
The amendment is defeated.
Are there any other speakers on the main motion, or can we now see if we have agreement on this motion? Would all those in favour of the motion, please indicate with your hands. Six. Any opposed? I think one, and a couple of abstentions.
The motion is adopted.
I will proceed to act on that motion today. Thank you very much for that discussion and, before we leave it, I want to make one observation that members of the committee might keep in mind if we actually do have to move to the point of drafting or issuing a subpoena. We seem to have differing views among some members of the committee as to the nature of the documentation that might be available in the Premier's Office. Mr. MacKinnon seems to think that there probably weren't any documents, because he said there wasn't any basis for issuing the subpoena. Mr. Samson, on the other hand, (Interruptions)
MR. MACKINNON: That is not what I said . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Let me finish my remarks.
MR. MACKINNON: . . . and I didn't ask you to editorialize . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, you don't have to, I can speak . . .
MR. MACKINNON: You have been doing it all through the committee meeting here today . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon . . .
MR. MACKINNON: That is not what I said . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, Mr. MacKinnon, it is not your turn. The other statement was from Mr. Samson, who seemed to think that there was such voluminous material in the Premier's Office that we had to specify. That is a point that members could keep in mind. If
I have misinterpreted what one of the members had to say, then he can straighten this out at another occasion.
Second item on the agenda, the problem of how we wish to proceed with respect to other members. (Interruptions) You can read the transcript later on.
MR. SAMSON: No, I am not going to read the transcript later on. Repeat your sentence. No one understands - what was your first point?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We are on the second item on the agenda, how we proceed with respect to any other witnesses with respect to the Gaming Corporation issue. I believe you have received copies of a letter from McInnes, Cooper & Robertson. Mr. Hayes, representing the casino operator, has suggested to us that his client is not volunteering any witnesses but if we want to hear from them they are prepared to make people available. So in light of that I thought we had to specifically at least turn our minds to the question of whether we want to hear from the casino operator? Mr. Dexter.
MR. DEXTER: If I interpreted Mr. LeBlanc's comments correctly, I thought there was general agreement last week that we would attempt to bring this matter to a conclusion by calling the Premier at that time and then it was amended to include Mr. Downe. Certainly, at this time I do not anticipate calling any further witnesses on this matter. I do agree that there ought to be a report written and issued, given the amount of time that we have spent on this. It is unfortunate that Mr. Samson has said, before any report is written that they will not endorse it. They are critical of somebody who would not approve a budget, so that is obviously the position of the members of the government caucus, that they are just going to reject any report before it is seen. My view is, barring any additional evidence that comes forward that would require any further witnesses, that we conclude with the Premier and Mr. Downe and move onto the next orders of business of the committee.
MR. LEBLANC: The only thing I would say is the time sequence for when we could hear from the Premier and the Minister of Finance, we do not know that as of yet. I would think that the Public Accounts Committee should put its mind forward to whom we would want to call and start trying to fill the spaces up for other witnesses coming forward. If that means it is in the interim to the witness coming forward, then so be it. I think the Public Accounts Committee should begin the process of focusing on other issues. I am moving that forward that we should perhaps do that before next week and get ourselves into a situation . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, we have the third item on the agenda today, that is really what that is about. All right, I take it at this point no one has any other suggestions as to anyone else. Let us move onto item number three. This has to do with setting the future agenda, matters other than gaming. The question becomes how the committee wishes to move both in terms of scheduling, do we wish to attempt to continue to meet on a weekly basis, that
has certainly been our recent pattern in any event while the House has been in session. You will recall that I circulated to the committee a memorandum dated September 22nd listing items that had been suggested by members of the committee. It lists the QEII, the P3 schools, Y2K preparedness, Nova Scotia Resources Limited. You may recall that the Department of Finance has a proposal with respect to changing its accounting methods and it wishes to speak to us about that, although they have not come forward with a particular proposal yet; Sable gas benefits, the operation of the Freedom of Information Office, Public Service Superannuation Plans and the Resource Recovery Fund. So we have quite a number of possible topics that we ought to turn to, we haven't had a chance yet to make any particular determinations. Mr. Dexter then Mr. Taylor.
MR. DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, I would like to propose that we look at calling before the committee at the next available opportunity, Mr. Livingstone, with respect to Nova Scotia Resources Limited. I understand that perhaps we should make these preparations now because Mr. Livingstone is, I believe, a resident of Alberta and it may well mean - although I understand he travels to this province - coordinating the committee's meetings to allow for him to appear while he is here, that may mean that we don't see him next week or the week after that, but we could make that preparation in advance to see him when he's available and in this province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, is there agreement from members? Mr. Taylor.
MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Chairman, just another possible consideration for the committee would be the Resource Recovery Fund Board. As you know, this province through the Department of the Environment has a contract with Tire Recycling Atlantic Canada Corporation and back when the contract was signed, the then president, Mr. Elwood Dillman, and the chairman, Jeanne Cruickshanks, resigned. They would not sign that contract. I think it would be in the public's best interest to understand the rationale for their decision. I just throw that out for consideration.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So these are two suggestions. Any other suggestions of hierarchy? Mr. LeBlanc.
MR. LEBLANC: Both those suggestions are excellent. I was going to come out with Nova Scotia Resources first and I thank Mr. Dexter for putting that forward. The Public Service Superannuation Plan I think perhaps would be a good one because of the fact of the volatility of the markets and trying to understand where they do stand and different things like that. I think that would be perhaps a good suggestion for the Public Accounts Committee to take a look at and then I would suggest that if we could focus perhaps on those first three to see how the schedule goes and so forth, I think we would be well served.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can I take it that there's some agreement? Mr. MacKinnon, comments?
MR. MACKINNON: In addition to that, I was looking at the first one on the list, the QE II hospital funding, you know, the deficits at some of these hospital boards, I thought it would be very interesting and important to probe into those four witnesses.
MR. LEBLANC: Well, if you want to do that one, I have no problem, Mr. Chairman.
MR. MACKINNON: I think that would be a little more timely since particularly, I mean with the escalating hospital costs, like health care costs, you know, that are a contributing factor to the deficit or debt, you know, deficit for this year, I think it would be very timely to probe because it is a major issue. It would be a number one budgetary matter, I mean in terms of costs.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. It is certainly the most expensive department. Mr. Fraser, did you wish to speak?
MR. FRASER: Mr. Chairman, Y2K preparedness, I look at that as one that has got to be ready. There is a closure date on that one. Obviously, you know, if we flip pages on the calendar, we get closer and closer and while others are important on an ongoing basis, I think this one is one that, if we leave it until sometime next year and maybe next fall, we're way past time to deal with something like that. So there should be some priority if we're going to, in fact, look at that one. If we're not, that's fine. Let's put it off the list.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am a little concerned about the nature of what's emerging here. We had a long list and I thought, well, we were hoping we might get some agreement maybe on two or three that we might try and organize meetings on, but Mr. Fage?
MR. FAGE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. On the Y2K one, we had an update on that in the previous session before a number of members, members of the public came from, I believe that occurred when, Roy, our Y2K update, when did we do that? Probably February of this year, February or March or was it June?
MR. ROY SALMON: In that time-frame, yes.
MR. FAGE: I see that we could possibly do another update and that one wouldn't be a big time commitment. The other thing I would suggest, I think the QE II is extremely important but I would feel much more comfortable dealing with it if we put it into a time segment block so to speak. So if we started dealing with that toward the end of November and continued with that and had our witnesses lined up so that we could deal with that situation rather than fragment it with other witnesses and other topics in between and concentrate on it. I would feel more comfortable dealing with it in that type of situation.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Salmon, the Auditor General wishes to speak.
MR. SALMON: I would just like to put some time-frames before you so that you make your decisions in the context of that. With the amendment that was passed to the Auditor General Act in the spring session, my deadline for my annual report is now December 31st. Our time-frames are such that what we're working to is a mid-November deadline to go to the printer for that annual report with an anticipated tabling before Christmas. That report will contain more timely information on several of these items that are on your list.
There is work going on at the QE II at the present time. We intend to report on that. We are updating our previous report on Y2K preparedness. There will be information on that. I would suggest to the members that it is already too late to be dealing with this issue, suggesting that it is next year is, certainly, way too late. It is too late now for many entities. There are lawsuits all the way across the United States with regard to Y2K and failures of systems already, in terms of dealing with credit cards that have expiry dates in the year 2000 or after because systems are not accepting them.
Those are important issues but I think you need to consider whether you want to wait for more timely information or deal with them in advance of that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, that was useful. I take it that what has emerged from our discussion is that we would like to try to organize meetings with respect to Nova Scotia Resources Limited and the Resource Recovery Fund. Perhaps a second hierarchy of priority would be the Public Service Superannuation Fund and other related pension funds, and the QE II.
I take it, the direction from the committee would be to ask the Committees Office to try to organize meetings with the people who have been named to come forward as soon as possible. We will ask the Committees Office to move on that today and report to the committee on where we stand. Is that an acceptable resolution of where we are?
Tentatively, then, we will meet again next - oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Salmon.
MR. SALMON: In the past, where we have done recent audit work in areas in which you wish to pursue inquiries, we have offered briefings in advance.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Absolutely.
MR. SALMON: We did do an audit of the Resource Recovery Fund this past year. We reported in the last Annual Report. We would be prepared to provide you with a briefing in advance of you calling witnesses on that one.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good.
MR. SALMON: The work we have done on Nova Scotia Resources is much more dated and probably not as relevant.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, that's fine. We will coordinate that. Thank you all very much for today. See you again next week.
[The committee adjourned at 11:27 a.m.]