Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
Mr. Graham Steele (Chairman)
Mr. James DeWolfe (Vice-Chairman)
Mr. Daniel Graham
Ms. Mora Stevens
Legislative Committee Coordinator
Mr. Roy Salmon
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2005
SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Mr. Graham Steele
MR. CHAIRMAN: I would like to call to order this meeting of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedures of the Public Accounts Committee. We have a few items on our agenda today. I would like to deal with the issue of document production first, because we have with us Gordon Hebb, Legislative Counsel. Gordon only needs to attend this meeting on that one item so I'd like to deal with that first, get it done and then he can go back to his regular work.
Just to remind members how this came before the subcommittee, at the last full meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, one of the members of the committee, Howard Epstein, had requested from Nova Scotia Business Inc. that they produce to the committee two specific documents. The first was an eight-page memo relating to the Snair's Bakery matter and this eight-page memo was referred to by Stephen Lund, one of the witnesses. The other document was an agreement between NSBI and MacTara Ltd., relating to funds they received from the province and certain amendments that were made to the documents.
Mr. Epstein asked that NSBI produce to the committee those complete documents without editing. At the time I pointed out that it was within the committee's power certainly to request and require that those documents be produced but that it, of course, had to be requested by the full committee, not just at the request of a single member. The reason it is on our agenda today is to see if we can make a recommendation to the full committee tomorrow about whether, in fact, we want these documents to be produced. So that is the subject under discussion.
Speaking on behalf of the NDP caucus, I can tell you that our proposal is that we should ask that these documents be produced, however, that we make our decision about whether to make them public documents after we've received them and reviewed them, and at that point, once we have actually seen what's in the documents, the committee will be in a better position to decide whether the claim of commercial confidentiality is well-founded or not. So that's what we propose. Discussion?
MR. DANIEL GRAHAM: What is the protection that would be allowed under a FOIPOP application in relation to something like this, in terms of editing the material?
MR. CHAIRMAN: One of the exemptions under the freedom of information Act, of course, is commercial confidentiality, but it's a fairly high hurdle. There's a three-part test that has to be met and every one of the three parts has to be met in order for the claim to be sustained. In cases that have come before the courts, typically only a little bit of information is allowed to be exempt under those sections. Most of the time the claim is advanced but the necessary proof isn't put forward and so the court disallows the claim for exemption, but the claim for commercial confidentiality is there.
I should also add, of course, that I want it to be clear to the members that this committee is not subject to the freedom of information Act. We can use it as a useful guide but we're not in any sense bound by it. If we decide we want to see information, well, then we can see the information.
MR. GRAHAM: If NSBI shows any interest in co-operating, they likely would about an edited version that protects those commercial elements of these documents. If we were to acknowledge the possibility that there is a commercial confidentiality interest in this, is there not a step that we could take that is uncommon, but nonetheless useful in having Darce Fardy review the document and provide that kind of protection, or vet the document as he would any other document, and then it is provided to us in the terms that have been agreed upon?
I guess that is an awkward but ultimately effective way to get to what we wanted to, that nobody is ultimately able to complain about partisanship around - this is a mechanism that we normally rely on, it obviously requires the co-operation of Mr. Fardy in order to get there. I don't know where we'd be at the end of the day, because if I were to look at a document and tried to glean - or if our committee did - what's commercially confidential, I'm not sure if I'm the best person to make the next decision. I'd try to be, but . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: You know the difficulty I have with that is that I don't believe it's helpful for useful or this committee to delegate to anybody else its job, which is to examine the Public Accounts of the province and all relevant information. Although I can see that as kind of a compromise, it delays things and at the end of the day the committee still hasn't seen the information, or may not see the information. I would be loath to support any
process that suggests that this committee is not entirely in control of what information it receives or doesn't receive. I think it's a bad precedent. Jim.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: I'll tell you, it's just way over my head as to the reasoning why we would want to investigate Snair's Bakery.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We're not investigating Snair's Bakery.
MR. DEWOLFE: No, but investigating the deal that was before them and the way it was handled. I believe that those files and the request for those files goes way beyond the mandate of this committee. Quite frankly, I think it's an abuse of the committee's legislative powers. Our mandate, in my mind, is quite clear to do the after-the-fact assessment, the post- audit if you will, value for dollar of monies spent by government. This is not in that category whatsoever because no monies were received by Snair's Bakery from the government. We must be very careful not to abuse the legislative powers of this committee.
I think NSBI has the right to a certain level of confidentiality, as do other government agencies. For example, we don't permit doctors and hospitals to delve out confidential information with regard to patients and so on. I think we have to be very, very cautious of what we're doing. I don't understand why we are delving into it. If we had given them some money and the business went down and floundered, then I could understand that we would investigate. But here we are on kind of a witch hunt or something and I don't really want any part of it, myself.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Gordon, can you outline for us the general principals about a committee like this obtaining information?
MR. GORDON HEBB: Are you talking about your powers?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm just talking about whether the committee has the right to get this information if it so wishes and what protections it can put in place to respect claims of commercial confidentiality or otherwise that a government agency might advance to protect the information.
MR. HEBB: The committee certainly has the power to get the information if it wishes. As I think you said before, the freedom of information Act doesn't apply, although the committee might well be advised to have regard to the purpose of the freedom of information Act and the protections it has on information. Obviously, things that the committee should consider in deciding whether to, one, get that information or, two, if it has that information, to release it to the public. I think the committee should have regard to those things, although there's nothing that the committee is bound to keep secret.
The committee can - as long as the subject matter is within the mandate of this particular committee - ask for any information it wants. As I say, it does not have to respect the commercial aspects if that's what it wishes to do, but it certainly can take that information in confidence so that it won't release it. If it wants to get the information, it doesn't have to release it, or it can choose to release it, or it can deal with it at an in camera meeting as a number of options. I don't know if I've answered what you have asked.
MR. DEWOLFE: Don't get me wrong, I understand that we do have the power to retrieve that information but do we have the right with those powers to violate the privacy of people, individuals, businesses, organizations? Do we have the right to do that and can we justify doing that? I think the area of justification is the part that needs to be explained to me. I'm not clear on the justification of this matter whatsoever.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Roy, what are your thoughts?
MR. ROY SALMON: I see the mandate as being equivalent to mine with regard to issues of value for money. I would have to take exception to Mr. DeWolfe's position on the value-for-money aspects of a particular transaction like this. The fact that no money was paid may have resulted in a loss of money in that if it was appropriate to finance Snair's Bakery, jobs would have been retained, tax revenues would have flowed to the government and it might have been a good investment.
The rationale for not going ahead with the transaction is what the committee should be assessing, and whether that rationale is solid and whether this eight-page document outlines an appropriate rationale for not financing the bakery, and that's a value-for-money issue.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Danny.
MR. GRAHAM: I, too, don't agree with some of the foundation points that Jim has made - with the greatest respect - in regard to NSBI. I don't think NSBI is entitled to much, if any, confidentiality. I think that the businesses with which they have communications have some entitlement to confidentiality, when it comes to issues that could jeopardize their business otherwise. Just as an obvious point, we need to create an environment for NSBI to be able to exchange information and discussions with private commercial enterprises that ultimately doesn't harm their business. We don't want a chill to go out there amongst potential investors because they're sharing information that is confidential.
In these circumstances, I think there are two elements to this that make this different. One is that it was Mr. Lund who raised this eight-page memo and essentially said, if you only saw what I saw of the work that our people do. I think that puts it on the table as something
that is acceptable for the committee to inquire into further; it was used in an argument in a meeting before this committee. At the same time, I think that we need to respect the process that presently exists around vetting this type of material. I don't think that our committee is well suited to sorting through what is commercial and what is not, even in camera.
I think we have a better mechanism, it may be awkward, but it is preferable to us getting down to a potentially partisan exercise - and I'm not suggesting it would be - on what stays in and what doesn't. It would certainly be well beyond our expertise to begin as a committee to edit what's in and what's out, and once we've seen it, then it becomes a challenge to turn the clock back.
Let me comment on the other document. I would suggest that it go through the same exercise as I suggested in the first instance, because it is a Cabinet document that was referenced in this committee. It relates to the finances of the province. Sometimes we have had too little information given to us about the way the Office of Economic Development has operated, and NSBI's reports, so this is a way to get deeper into this and develop a better understanding of this issue.
So the bottom line for me, Mr. Chairman, I think we will see the documents. I know you've said that perhaps we will never see them. I'm fully confident that we will, and we will get the relevant information if we take the prudent course of not being controlled by Mr. Fardy, but informed by him. I don't think that usurps the authority of this committee to co-operatively seek input and be informed by somebody as opposed to surrendering our privileges as a committee.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Here's what I would propose to you then. I guess I've been dealing with FOI stuff for too long to agree that we should just hand it over to Darce Fardy and say here, tell us what we should do. I would be willing to seek his input provided the committee gets to see the documents too, and then we will, as you say, take his input as part of our decision. But the decision, to me, has to be our decision alone and that a legislative committee, just as a matter of precedent, I just think needs to assert that the final decision rests with it. I have trouble agreeing to any process that would involve a decision being made without the committee actually seeing the documents.
What I would then propose, I would change the proposal that I originally outlined this way, that we would request the unedited documents from NSBI, we would agree that the documents would be held as a matter of confidence until the committee asks the FOI review officer if he would look at them and provide his input - of course, he'd be doing this as a favour to us since he has no statutory mandate to do it - and if he agrees to do it, then we would receive his advice and at that point we would make a decision about whether the documents should be made public or not. Of course, if we decide as a committee that they shouldn't be made public, then no member could or should ever reference them in public. That's what I would suggest.
MR. DEWOLFE: Mr. Chairman, has Snair's, the company, contacted anyone from your caucus on this?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I can only speak for myself, I haven't been contacted. Have they spoken to anybody else in the caucus? I'm not aware one way or the other.
MR. DEWOLFE: I'd be surprised if they would want their dirty laundry aired to the public. I think we have to respect the company - and any company - on matters of public disclosure. If Snair's doesn't want its financial information made public and considering the fact that the government did not give them any money and turned them down, then I think we mustn't ask for these documents. I think it should be up to them if they want this information released. They probably understand very clearly why this didn't go ahead, and they probably would like that to remain at rest right now.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I understand the point, but the fundamental difference is . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: I have nothing to do with the company, I never even heard of the company before being here.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The fundamental difference though is that you want us not to get the information because there might be a confidence in it, and I'm saying let's at least get the information and at that point we'll be in a better position to say whether there's a confidence in it or not.
MR. DEWOLFE: I'm just afraid that it sets a precedent that we really don't want to get into.
MR. CHAIRMAN: But the precedent is already there. This committee is entitled to see whatever it wants. You're saying we shouldn't even want the information?
MR. DEWOLFE: I realize that we have the right to get the information, but I think there are other factors with regard to collecting personal and private information that we have to consider, without justification.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess we'll have to leave it at this. Your position is clear, I think, and my position is clear, and so I suppose in a sense, Danny, you're the tiebreaker in this one. What do you want to do?
MR. GRAHAM: I'm favourably disposed to the recommendation that you've suggested with a couple of amendments around the way that we couch this. We could be in a protracted exercise with NSBI resisting this request, and it becomes a tempest in a teapot,
or something that is out of proportion to the information that is being requested. So I think that steps should be taken in the request that's put forward that give them at least some confidence to the extent that we can give them that, that this is being conducted in good faith and that it's not intended as a blindside in any way.
Here's what I suggest, that we reassure them that the members of the committee will be advised that this is held in confidence and not to be disclosed to the public, as an obligation as a committee member, and that we will be guided by the advice of the - I'm trying to find the right language - that we will seek the guidance of Mr. Fardy, and I can say on the record here that I feel I'd be substantially guided by the comments of Mr. Fardy once we get the feedback on this, but I appreciate the points you're making with respect to the final say on this matter.
So the proposal that I put forward is substantially what you've said with tweaks around the language to ensure that we don't get caught in a big war as we go along and we get to the final result as quickly as we can.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Do you see any difficulty with that proposal going forward? Roy, do you have any final comment on that? Okay, in that case, Jim, we understand your objection, we just don't necessarily agree with it. But we understand it and I want to assure you of that. So we'll take that as the way we'll move forward on that, thanks very much, and thank you, Gordon, for attending today.
I would like to now move on to agenda-setting. I hope we can all agree that one of the items that needs to be on our agenda is our review of the Auditor General's Office. This is the only public accountability that the Auditor General has; the Auditor General doesn't report to any other unit of government, he doesn't report to the Premier, he doesn't report to Cabinet. In a very real sense, the session that he has with the Public Accounts Committee is the only accountability session that his office has. So I hope we can all agree that that's an item that ought to be on our agenda. Is there any comment on that?
MR. SALMON: This is the last opportunity to fire me before I retire. (Laughter)
MR. GRAHAM: We don't have that kind of authority, Roy.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I also take it that when the Auditor General releases his June report, we will as a matter of course, just like we did last year, at the earliest opportunity have a public session essentially to receive his report and to question him on it. We did that same thing last year. I assume there's no difficulty of doing that again this year. Are there any comments?
MR. SALMON: I can't give you a definitive date, but it will be in June. (Interruption)
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mora's suggesting that we have one session in camera and one session in public. Did we do that last year?
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator): We have, we've done that.
MR. SALMON: We did, but only because we had an in camera session just prior to tabling it, or just at the time of tabling it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We had one anyway, right?
MS. STEVENS: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Let's leave that open but we'll agree that we will at least have a public session. I think it's important that the committee meet as soon as possible to deal with the report while it's still fresh. I assume there's no objection to that?
Before we start setting our agenda, I wonder if I could get your opinion of how late we ought to sit. I look back over the past number of years and we typically sit at least until the end of May and often into the first or occasionally even the second week of June. Does anyone want to say anything about that? Jim.
MR. DEWOLFE: I don't mind when I'm here anyway for the House of Assembly, I don't know how long it's going to be in session this year. Certainly, a lot of things start happening at the constituency level come June, that's when the functions start in my area. So the sooner the better as far as I'm concerned. I think the end of May works well. I think we only extended it a couple of times because there were some issues that we wanted to deal with. We're sort of flexible on that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, what if we tentatively projected our last sitting day, other than the Auditor General's session, to be on Wednesday, June 1st? Does anyone have any difficulty with that?
MR. GRAHAM: No.
MR. DEWOLFE: No, that would work.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So that leaves us with five potential slots, because tomorrow, of course, we have a scheduled meeting. April 20th was tentatively set for the Auditor General for the discussion of his office. We have the Gaming Corporation coming in on May 11th, those are the only ones we have currently scheduled. That leaves potentially April 27th, May
4th, May 18th, May 25th, and June 1st. We have five slots so let's see if we can aim to have agreement in principal anyway on five items. There's no point in scheduling more than five.
We have the NDP list which is in order of priority. There's one I'd like to explain before we get into this, the second item. People who have been on this committee for a while will remember that when all the Strait Regional School Board stuff was happening - this was under the majority government - it was proposed that the committee examine this issue. The majority of the committee concluded that it should not examine this material as long as there is a police investigation ongoing. In fact, the police investigation lasted right up until a few months ago when it was finally announced that no criminal charges would be forthcoming. Copies of a forensic audit were released.
It still seems to me to be important that this committee look at this, since this was a substantial issue involving a substantial amount of money. Now that the police investigations are over, I'd like to propose that we look at this, but we do more than just look at it, that we actually consider travelling to the Strait region. I believe there are a number of people, members of the public, former employees and so on, who have something to say and that the only really constructive way we have of tackling this issue is to actually have some sessions up in the Strait region, which is easier for the witnesses to attend and just as importantly, easier for members of the public up in that region to attend to hear what happened with public money in these cases.
The Strait Regional School Board is one that if approved, we probably couldn't get to until the Fall anyway because there would be a certain amount of logistics that would have to be done in terms of travelling. For example, I'm informed by Mora that for this committee to travel we need the approval of the Speaker, plus setting up public sessions and advertising and stuff like that. So that would probably be something for September.
MR. DEWOLFE: So are we on that one now?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Before we start looking at the lists at all I just wanted to explain that one, it's a little bit different from the norm. Discussion of the lists. Maybe I should start with you, Danny, and say, was there something in particular that the Liberals wanted to look at between now and the end of June?
MR. GRAHAM: I had two items, one of which was covered by an NDP proposal with respect to the Capital District Health Authority, exactly on the point that was of concern to me about the late approval of the 2004-05 budget. I think it is right to have the CDHA as the main player on that.
The other was the recent arrangements and the history around the teachers' pension,
so that would be a Department of Finance matter. Those are the two requests that we would put in.
If you could allow me just to comment on the others since I see them here. A lot have merit, it's a matter of vetting through what we see. Alternative funding is something that I think we need to have a full discussion on. I'd be interested in knowing who the witnesses are, not just the audit people; we should think about whether there are other people who could . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: Which one . . .
MR. GRAHAM: The top one with the NDP. I'd be interested in knowing whether or not there are others who might be able to provide information around that question. I just throw that out, not a strong commitment to that thought. I'm not particularly tickled by the pay-for-performance programs and my sense is there will be a difference in philosophy around some of that that will become more apparent than the reality of it. I'm in favour of a well-constructed pay-for-performance incentive system across government and I'd be concerned that it might become unconstructive. I'll come back to the Strait Regional School Board in a moment.
On the Progressive Conservative side I don't have a problem, in fact, I like the idea of the retention of young Nova Scotians, I think that's a positive one. The Bluenose trademark, I don't consider that to be a particularly burning issue still, it seems to have been largely resolved. I'm not sure that there's a big ticket associated with that. I'd need to know more about what the new deal with Scotia Learning was about.
Finally, with respect to the Strait school board, I think, Graham, your comments are right, that this is something that we should be looking back into. I have some concerns about the logistics of what you've described and in particular how we begin to identify people who would have a stake in this and would be able to inform us, and what it means to travel and to hear from a variety of people.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Jim, what are your comments?
MR. DEWOLFE: Just looking at the NDP list then, going down to the Health issue for physician alternative funding, we had this issue before the committee in February 2005. (Interruptions) Yes, it did and I'm just wondering is there anything that has really changed since that?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, first of all it just came up in passing during Doctors Nova Scotia and the second thing is since then even this audit has been released, so there's actually an audit that is now available that wasn't available then that talks in some detail about this particular subject.
MR. DEWOLFE: I don't know, it just seems that we've had . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Roy, can you remind us who did that audit, who released it?
MR. SALMON: I don't have it in my head.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It wasn't your office then, I think it was the Department of Health that did the audit. Of course, it involves a great deal of money and there were some very interesting things said in the audit.
MR. SALMON: There has been press, with doctors speaking out both for and against it.
MR. DEWOLFE: And on the Strait Regional School Board issue we have agreed to that before. When the police investigation was over we were are all anxious to . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: What's your reaction to the idea about actually travelling to the Strait region?
MR. DEWOLFE: My reaction to travelling is, I don't think that's a necessity at all. I would agree to it if we weren't travelling, put it that way. The Capital District Health Authority, again, this issue was before the committee back in January 2004, I guess, or back in there somewhere. Again, I have to ask the question, what has changed since then? The Public Service Commission's pay for performance across Nova Scotia, that doesn't seem to be in the forefront in my mind. The Liberal's topic about the history and changes to the Teachers' Pension Plan, I don't have any great problem with that one.
You look at my list and as I always said before, I think we should be pursuing issues that come out of the Auditor General's Report. Some of these are indeed issues that come out of the Auditor General's Report and I realize that we, being the most active Public Accounts Committee in the entire nation, I think that we've covered most of the stuff but there are still a few things there that are worthy of looking at and I'm looking forward to the Auditor General's performance report. At any rate the P3 schools, the deal with Scotia Learning is sort of topical these days, in the forefront.
MR. GRAHAM: If I could just find out a bit more about that. I know that P3 is a popular subject. What is it about that new deal?
MR. DEWOLFE: Well, I've been just reading a bit about it. Last Thursday the government resolved some differences, a long-standing dispute there with Scotia Learning regarding the P3 school system, that involved $2.3 million. We'd like to review that agreement. I think we've probably reached a deal that we can work with and now the cafeterias, I guess the profits are going to go back into the school system and so on.
Just some wrinkles that needed to be ironed out of those original deals and I'm not talking in terms of going after the previous government for making these deals. I think this committee should be working non-partisan on issues like this and I think that the public expects that of us as well.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Roy, do you have any thoughts on this?
MR. SALMON: No. We had a great deal of difficulty with the P3 deals a number of years ago when they were entered into and we were very critical of them at that time. I'm not aware of what's happened recently with Scotia Learning.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, the new development, of course, being this agreement that was entered into just this past week.
MR. SALMON: Right.
MR. GRAHAM: I guess my comment, you'll recall that I said I'd need to hear more about what it is. I'm not yet convinced that it is a pressing matter right now, that there are other things that are perhaps more pressing. We've been down this path regarding P3s a number of times. If it appears that they have reached resolution, I'm just not sure if it's the best use of our time, given the other priorities that are out there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, as usual, we're in a position that, after going around, it's not at all clear what we have consensus on or not. If it were up to me, which it's not, I would pick the physician alternative funding. Danny said he was interested in the CDHA and to answer your question, Jim, about what's different is that anytime this committee has discussed this issue before, it's been the Department of Health that comes in and this time what we're proposing is that the CDHA come in.
As I'm sure you know, at the end of the fiscal year, with one week to go in the fiscal year, the budget and business plan were approved. Not for the coming year, but for the past year, for 2004-05, and it seems to me like a dreadful way of doing business to approve a budget and business plan with one week to go in the fiscal year. I think we need to hear what the implications of this approach are because, of course, this is something that happens year after year. It's not just the CDHA, but the CDHA just seems to be subject to this every single year. I guess that's my answer to your question about what's different.
I would suggest that those two items go on. I'm always interested in the P3 schools issue. It seems like a good opportunity to kick the Liberal Party, but of course that's not supposed to be our main objective in this committee.
MR. DEWOLFE: It's not my objective either. I made that clear. It's more to get a better understanding of the deal that was made of late.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I know my caucus colleagues will probably tell me it's a missed opportunity, but I think that that has been done to death - P3 schools - and although we're still paying for them, as witnessed by this deal last week, as Danny said, it's not the most pressing issue.
MR. DEWOLFE: I believe representatives from both caucuses were there for the announcements.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes. I mean the one about retention of young Nova Scotians, who can argue with that? I don't see how that fits on the agenda of this committee, you know, there are other legislative committees that are in a better place than we are to address that kind of thing. There's sort of the future-oriented, what should government policy be and although, of course, it's an important topic, I have a hard time seeing how it fits in the mandate of this committee and I'm personally very keen on the Strait Regional School Board one. It's one that we didn't examine at the time for reasons that I thought were maybe not the best in the world and now that there's no police investigation, what we know is a lot of money went to places it shouldn't have gone and I just think whenever that happens, this committee needs to take a hard look at it.
It's much more difficult to hear from the people I think we need to hear from and, more importantly, to speak to the people whose children go to the schools in the Strait Regional School Board if we have it here in downtown Halifax when all the essential things that happened, happened up there, which is why I was proposing to go on the road, but I understand, Jim, that you're not at all keen on that?
MR. DEWOLFE: I'm not keen on going on the road. I don't think a road show is necessary.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, can we agree at least on the physician alternative funding as one of our five?
MR. GRAHAM: You've got my agreement on that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Can we agree on the CDHA? Danny, you said that you would be interested in that.
MR. GRAHAM: I'm agreeable. On the Strait Regional School Board, if we weren't going on the road, it may open up the opportunity to do it in the Spring.
MR. DEWOLFE: That's true.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, the key question there would be who to hear from.
MR. SALMON: The board.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Hear from the board itself, yes, not from the Department of Education, from the board.
MR. DEWOLFE: I say plug her in.
MR. CHAIRMAN: All right.
MR. SALMON: Everything that happened was under the control of the board.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Let's put it in. Of course, we would be hearing from people who weren't there at the time because, for example, the chairman of the board at the time was intricately involved with all the things that went wrong, but she's not there anymore.
MR. SALMON: No, no.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There's a new chairman of the board.
MR. SALMON: You could call the previous one.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, we would need to have some pretty careful consideration about who exactly we would be asking to appear.
MR. DEWOLFE: How many do we have now, Mr. Chairman?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, that would be the third one.
MR. DEWOLFE: The court issues are current and, you know, with the swarmings and so on that are going on, is there anything we can work up there with Justice and Justice issues?
MR. GRAHAM: Well, you could appreciate, and this goes back to the food for thought that Graham gave us with respect to the retention of young Nova Scotians. I don't see it as a Public Accounts Committee issue. I hadn't really reflected on our mandate when I thought about the retention of young Nova Scotians issue. I would be keen on exploring the construction of the two courthouse buildings in Lunenburg and how that came about, that would make for some interesting . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Was that part of the Auditor General's audit?
MR. SALMON: I don't believe so.
MR. GRAHAM: Well, it's something you might make a note on, Roy, how we ended up with two capital investments on Justice issues in a county as small as Lunenburg in the Attorney General's area.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You're not suggesting any connection?
MR. GRAHAM: I'm not suggesting anything, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There could be no connection between capital spending on Justice and where the Justice Minister's riding is located.
MR. GRAHAM: Bridgewater and Lunenburg continue to have rivalries that run deep.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I know sarcasm doesn't come across very well in Hansard so I'm going to stop now.
MR. DEWOLFE: It is clearly seeking fair-minded consensus, compromise . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm happy to look at P3 schools and I know it's at the top of the Progressive Conservative list, but it probably is not the highest priority. We have three and I'm . . .
MR. GRAHAM: Teachers' pensions. This is huge, this is a very material consideration and I mean, that's really the only request we have on the table. I think there is a lot to be learned about the accuracy of this.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm okay with that. The only thing I could say in response to that would come across as a partisan comment and I don't mean it that way, so I'll just say, yeah, sure. Jim.
MR. GRAHAM: Your grace is overwhelming. (Laughter)
MR. DEWOLFE: Again, you wanted me to comment on that one?
MR. CHAIRMAN: On having a session on teachers' pensions, which obviously is a great deal of public money and there's a lot of - I wouldn't say public concern about it, but there's a great deal of controversy about it and I think misunderstanding about how it came to take up such a great deal of government money. When's the last time your office did an audit on teachers' pensions, Roy?
MR. SALMON: We did a fair amount of work last year on pension asset management generally and teachers' pensions was part of that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Right. That was the big global issue of pension asset management. You weren't auditing the fund or anything like that.
MR. SALMON: Well, we audit the fund in terms of the accuracy of the unfunded liability and the balances for purposes of their inclusion in the province's financial statements. We do that every year, so we have a fair deal of . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Jim, let me put it to you this way, can you think of a strong reason why we shouldn't put it on our agenda?
MR. DEWOLFE: Well, they have it resolved, do they not?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Teachers' Union had a vote in which a certain option got a majority . . .
MR. SALMON: They had two votes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: They had two votes, but I don't think by any stretch that resolves the question about the history of the fund. This one, I think, fits much more neatly in our mandate because it's about what's happened in the past and how we got to where we are.
MR. DEWOLFE: I'm not fussy about it, I have to tell you. It's not something on my radar screen.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Of course, you know, Danny, it's a very difficult, very technical one and it's one that can so easily just get lost because it's so difficult to understand all the ins and outs of it.
MR. GRAHAM: I would agree with you that there's a lot of misunderstanding about it and this gives an opportunity to provide a more complete understanding of that to the public because we're slowing the clock down for two hours.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Let's put it on then. That leaves us with one and we can leave one more slot open to . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: So what are you putting in off the PC list?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, we don't exactly do it that way, where everybody sort of gets one or two off their list. It's supposed to be by consensus and they could all come off one list or another. I have to tell you that there's not anything there that's . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: I think the retention of youth is something that's remarkable.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Clearly, it's an important subject. It just doesn't belong in the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee, that's all.
MR. GRAHAM: Can we take a look at that report and then just come back together and see whether or not there is - I haven't seen the report.
MR. DEWOLFE: I saw a little bit of it and Roy's analysis of Snair's, perhaps by their moving out there's loss of jobs, then perhaps the retention of young people starting businesses is an increase of jobs and businesses. I think it's something that should obviously fit in our mandate.
MR. GRAHAM: Can we go with four, leave the fifth open, look at the report and have an informal gathering at the end of one of our regular meetings?
MR. DEWOLFE: Agreed.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, I think that's fine. Because, of course, other things may come up between now and then anyway that we all agree is appropriate. Okay, so we have a consensus. I think there's a little bit of work to be done still in terms of exactly what witnesses would be on some of these, but I think we have our topics.
The clerk and I and all of us together just need to make sure that we have a consensus on who exactly the witnesses will be, so we'll get back to you on that.
MR. DEWOLFE: So an e-mail will come out then with the proposed witnesses . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, are there any other - oh, yes, there's the annual conference, one item of business. Strictly speaking, in order to send three members of the Legislature to the annual Public Accounts Committee conference, we need the approval of the Speaker. So the request that's before the subcommittee is to recommend to the full committee that that request go forward to the Speaker, that we send - as we have for the past number of years - one member of each Party. This year's conference is towards the end of August at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. Any objection to that letter being sent? It's already been drafted by the clerk and it's a standard letter, just formally asking the Speaker's permission, which I'm sure will be forthcoming.
MR. SALMON: Could I add one additional piece of information?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, please.
MR. SALMON: I received an e-mail from our CCOLA secretariat this morning with regard to that conference. The proposal at the moment is the first morning - the Monday morning - the total morning would be dedicated to what's become known as the John J. Kelly Forum, which is the joint meeting of the legislative auditors and the PAC members. The proposal is to receive a presentation from CCAF on recent work they've done on governance and accountability and then to break into small groups, mixed groups - legislative auditors and PAC members - to discuss this issue and have a really good exchange for the morning. I think, personally, it would be very productive. That's where we are and we're working on the rest of our agenda.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I just wanted to remind the subcommittee members that this subcommittee doesn't make decisions, it makes a recommendation. So this recommendation will be going forward to the full committee tomorrow. I would just ask, in order to use our time wisely tomorrow, if any of your caucus members have questions about the recommendation, try to deal with it beforehand. Explain to them how we reached the decision we did because I'd prefer not to spend a lot of the committee's time tomorrow in a lengthy discussion about how this subcommittee reached the consensus that it did. You understand what I mean? Hopefully, by the time it comes around, it will be a very quick approval by the full committee.
Any other items? If not, we'll adjourn. Thanks, Jim, thanks, Danny.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 2:58 p.m.]