Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
PUBLIC ACCOUNTS SUBCOMMITTEE
Ms. Maureen MacDonald (Chair)
Mr. James DeWolfe (Vice-Chairman)
Mr. Daniel Graham
Ms. Mora Stevens
Legislative Committee Coordinator
Mr. Roy Salmon
HALIFAX, WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2005
SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
Ms. Maureen MacDonald
MADAM CHAIR: I guess we'll get started. We will have people say, for the record, who they are, to get the sound levels.
[The subcommittee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: I'm Maureen MacDonald. I'm not sure how this generally goes, but I know we had some items left over, and I also know that people probably have brought some lists of suggested topics. I don't know if we should just circulate those, or how you'd like to proceed.
MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: From my point of view, I didn't have the time frame to contact the ministries and so on. Madam Chair, as usual, I'm a firm believer in following the agenda set by the Auditor General's Report and taking items from the Auditor General's Report. That's essentially what I'll be looking at.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay. Mr. Graham.
MR. DANIEL GRAHAM: Madam Chair, I, too, didn't have a chance to canvass my colleagues extensively on this matter. I know that we have a number of items that are currently being signalled to be our intention. I do have some feedback about new items and priorities. The way that we have done this in the past is that we have set a schedule that has gone out - it strikes me - for at least a couple of months, perhaps as long as three or four months, but we've remained flexible from time to time. It has required some agility to move people in as items became of greater interest for us.
Obviously with the passage of almost three months - it has been three months since this committee has met - the possibility that new items and new priorities arose is alive, and I'd like to put a few things on the table. Given the limited feedback that I have received from my caucus colleagues, I do think we need to be attentive to what has been determined to be priorities up to this point at the same time. So I'm inclined to suggest that we have a discussion that involves something of a blending of both the old priorities and anything that might be more current.
I don't have in front of me - and I think Ms. Stevens may have provided us with a copy of this by e-mail - a list of where we are right now and what priorities we've currently set.
MR. DEWOLFE: You're talking about the previously approved witnesses?
MR. GRAHAM: Right. Where we were in terms . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: I do have that information. There were three previously.
MR. GRAHAM: School boards, the Teachers Union, teachers' pensions, the Deloitte & Touche matter. That leaves us, I think . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: And one other. The Strait Regional School Board.
MR. GRAHAM: With respect to Mr. DeWolfe's orientation, to stick with the Auditor General's reviews, that has been a valuable exercise from time to time. I don't think there has ever been any consensus that this should be the guide per se, that we should follow back through those footsteps and move forward. There are many other priorities that are pressing. The reviews of the Auditor General are pretty comprehensive, and he gives us a good feel for them when he provides his report, both in camera and not in camera. So we've covered some of this ground, in some cases twice, although, more superficially, the Auditor General has unearthed a fair bit himself.
There are several pressing issues around the government expenditures right now, and I think it would be helpful for us to examine some of those, if they are current priorities. I'm prepared to talk about some of the ideas that we have, they are general in nature right now. I see that the NDP has provided us with a list, some of which I see we've already touched on on previous occasions.
MADAM CHAIR: I was remiss in not acknowledging that Mr. Salmon, our Auditor General, is here this morning. Good morning, thank you for joining with us.
MR. ROY SALMON: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: I guess I would say, Jim, in terms of the point, I totally agree that the Auditor General's Report is really very important and that the committee does need to have some time to reflect on the information that's being brought out by our Auditor General. That's a given. But I'm wondering if there isn't - and I think the past practice has been a blend. We hear from the Auditor General on a fairly regular basis. There will be periodic reports, and we meet in camera, we meet in public. The intention of this committee, in my recollection, is to put a fair amount of emphasis on the aspects of that report, especially as new material is being generated, but I also know that from time to time, because the Auditor General's office has a limited number of resources and they have to use those in a targeted way, they can't examine all aspects of the Public Accounts of the province at any given time in great depth. Sometimes we need to have the latitude, I think, to bring before us the entities of a very timely issue that will come forward.
I would feel most comfortable if we could find some way to blend a continuation of examining the information that the Auditor General is bringing forward, so that we can ask government departments how they've addressed any of the problems that his office has identified, but at the same time giving us some latitude to examine some of those other very important issues. I don't know how you feel about that.
MR. DEWOLFE: Yes, I do, and that has been essentially the course that we've taken. By the way, some of us have just come back from a national conference on Public Accounts. After-the-fact, post-audit understanding and assessment of value for dollar seems to be what most of the Public Accounts Committees across the nation are looking at. Most post-audit issues are conducted and put forward by the Auditor General. I believe that some jurisdictions, that's essentially all they deal with is the Auditor's General Report. The Auditor General is here, and he's shaking his head in agreement to that, because he did attend some of our conference, as we did some of his, during joint sessions.
Having said that, I would hope that the committee continues the course that was set out by a previous chairman, Mr. Steele. He did attempt to have a non-partisan spirit with regard to this committee.
MR. GRAHAM: With great success.
MR. DEWOLFE: He did. I have to give credit where credit is due. He did a very good job of that. I think that the Public Accounts Committee, as a whole, should be commended for the work that they've done in the past couple of years as well. I would also take the opportunity to thank Mora for the work that she has provided to this committee because she has a great understanding of the work of the committee and hopefully will continue to work with us.
I realize there are certain issues that come up that right now, we don't even know what those might be, but then the subcommittee will reconvene at various times at the call of the Chair, and we'll discuss those issues and see where we go from there and take our decision back to the broader committee for approval or disapproval. For the most part, I would really be quite confident in dealing with some of the issues, and there are quite a few now, provided by the Auditor General's Report. Those, and the previously approved agenda items, should keep us going through the Fall session.
MR. GRAHAM: Could I ask a question about one of the items that is in the Auditor General's Report and it requires me to have my memory refreshed. Roy, the Nova Scotia Hospital Information System project, remind me what that involved. I have a sense of some of that, it's in the material that we have, I'm wondering whether it is broad enough to include the Meditech. There is a $60 million issue around Meditech and I'm wondering if that is part of that?
MR. SALMON: This system has been installed in hospitals in some of the health authorities, not the Capital District. There are issues around integrating it with systems already in place, particularly in the IWK. The intention - and it has not yet been accomplished - is to extend the system to provide on-line access to doctors in their offices. There has been an issue around the gathering of data on-site, by nurses, through the use of portable computers. That appears to have been resolved, but the integration and access by doctors has not.
MR. GRAHAM: I recall - Ms. Maureen MacDonald will recall as well - the beginning of, I believe, this program in Antigonish and the challenges that were presented and the expressions of concern by the nurses at St. Martha's Hospital around this issue. Just on a very narrow question, is this called Meditech?
MR. SALMON: I believe it is, but the capacity for a nurse at the bedside to have access to information and also gather and input information on a patient-by-patient basis and then have that available across the system.
MR. GRAHAM: I'll wade in perhaps on some substance that will be a start to bridging some of the gaps around our various interests, and I'll express what ours are. First, Jim, in terms of going back - and this isn't in order of priority or in order of appearance but just to sort of pick them off - on the issue of things that we've covered, that the Auditor General has covered, I see this as health information, the Meditech one is still alive and it's a big expenditure item that's very important to the future of the medical system in Nova Scotia. So if we were looking at going back to things that have been covered already, that, for me, would be a priority item.
In terms of the NDP expressions of interest, the nine matters that have been put before us, the one that interests me the most is Atlantic Lottery Corporation and let me indicate why. I think there have been expressions of concern across all Parties recently about the FOIPOP questions concerning some of the contracting and tendering that has been done by ALC, it is something that affects all three provinces. There has been concern expressed by government officials, by ALC people, by people in other provinces about the degree to which ALC may perceive itself to be at arm's-length from government reach and actually is from government reach.
This isn't the only matter that is alive at ALC, this is an organization that is involved in hundreds of millions of dollars of government money. I don't recall them having been brought before a committee to sort of provide us with more insight into what they've been doing. Certainly, gaming is a pressing public issue right now and knowing more about what their priorities are and how they fit into this would be a timely thing for us to do. So if I could indicate that at the top of those items that have been listed.
I think the Office of Economic Development, the Industrial Expansion Fund, is a supportable initiative. There have been a number of recent announcements that just sort of throw into question where is the Industrial Expansion Fund in relation to NSBI? What is the role of the Office of Economic Development around economic expansion? Are they a policy organization or are they a business development organization?
Thirdly, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, Keep the Heat Rebate Program. The whole issue of energy as we would know is the top item in the minds of Nova Scotians right now. A thoughtful examination of what currently exists out there and is that the best use of the funding mechanisms that we have, I think would be a priority. I wouldn't want to restrict it just to the heat rebate, necessarily, I think that the gasoline fuel question and the double taxation comes under the same body in Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations. I think it would be a valuable thing for them to come in and be ready to talk about energy questions around petroleum products, generally.
If I were to add just one more, it would be in relation to the casino contract. There's a lot of stuff that was blanked out of the casino contract that was ultimately received. I think that that's a priority that we need to somehow understand better, a big deal that recently happened. I think we would be well served if we really went beneath it.
Can I ask a question, what is our intention with respect to our first meeting? Do we have a sense of how soon we will start up?
MADAM CHAIR: I would ask Mora to speak to that question. I'm assuming that we will pick a target date and then we will attempt to see who is available from our list of priorities that we can schedule.
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator): I was aiming for September 28th with someone that has already been approved, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union and the Department of Finance. They were checking into their schedules, I'm not sure if they'll be able to make it that day. What happens is this list gets approved here, then because we don't have a regular meeting scheduled I have to send it out to the committee members and actually get their approval of the list because it needs to be voted on. What I will do is send it out by the end of today and hopefully they can approve it by Monday. I made the calls, so it will just depend on how long - usually it takes people about a month to get ready.
MR. GRAHAM: Mora, if I could just pipe in, and this is at the risk of sounding self-interested in all of this, I've given a signal that it's very unlikely that I will be around for all of the Fall sitting. It's obvious that scheduling shouldn't be done around the priorities of any single member of this group. There is a much greater prospect that I would be here September 28th than there would be, for example, October 28th. There are some areas that I've had some critic responsibilities and I would welcome the opportunity to get those on earlier rather than later. Again, I'm ready to respect the priorities of the committee and scheduling challenges of others.
The matter that is most relative to my critic responsibilities is the ALC question, so I would welcome the possibility of having that come on as our first priority.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. DeWolfe, do you have any response? Mr. Graham has gone through the list that I have brought and now has made some reference to our being prepared to have the ALC come on September 28th. How would you view that?
MR. DEWOLFE: I would think that that might be hard to arrange for September 28th. I think the Department of Finance, Teachers Union is one that we can probably - Mora has already been in touch with them and it's more likely . . .
MADAM CHAIR: But we have nothing set up at the moment. Nothing has been firmed up. If they were scheduled then I would see that as being problematic because they would have arranged their schedules, but they haven't done that. Maybe in the interest of being flexible and collegial, I want to say I have no difficulty with trying to accommodate. I know you've put a great deal of time into this issue to say the least and really, I hear what you're saying, it may be very difficult to get the corporation in front of us by September 28th, I'm sure that may be the case, but perhaps we should at least try to see where that goes. It is something that all three Parties have expressed some concern around in the last month. It seems to me it's not something that we have some strong disagreements around in terms of the need for some accountability here.
Perhaps what we could have is a fallback position. I don't know about the Nova Scotia Teachers Union topic around teachers' pensions. I thought that had been resolved to some extent. Had there not been a resolution? Perhaps not a satisfactory one to everybody. Mr. Salmon.
MR. SALMON: My understanding from information that has come to my attention is that yes, an agreement was reached between the government and the Teachers Union, to the dissatisfaction of the majority of teachers and it's a hot topic among teachers. Bringing some discussion to the issue might be of benefit.
MADAM CHAIR: Had there been a vote on this by the membership?
MR. SALMON: Yes, there were two votes. There was a vote by the members who opposed the agreement that had been entered into by the union leadership and some modifications were made to the arrangement that finally resulted in the support of a slim majority of the teachers, as I understand. This goes back several months.
MR. GRAHAM: Some of them ripping up their cards or something like that.
MR. SALMON: Yes.
MR. DEWOLFE: Still the democratic process, though.
MR. SALMON: It was a democratic process but it was close to a revolt within the union, as I understand it.
MR. DEWOLFE: They did have a lovely summer off.
MR. SALMON: I support Mr. Graham's point on Atlantic Lottery, too, and this has some history to it. Ten years ago we did an audit in there after much debate and discussion even getting in. The corporation took the position that my mandate stopped at the border of Nova Scotia and they were in New Brunswick and I had no right to go in. I finally went in with the Auditor General of New Brunswick taking the lead. We did all the work and we found $5 million a year that belonged to Nova Scotia that was going to the other provinces. It's a difficult corporation to deal with.
MADAM CHAIR: It has been six years since they've been in front of this committee but they have been here. There is precedence.
MR. SALMON: Ten years ago, yes.
MADAM CHAIR: It does seem to me to be a reasonable expectation on our part that they will respond to a request to come in front of us.
MS. STEVENS: They do go yearly to New Brunswick's Public Accounts Committee because I have the transcript from the last time they were there.
MADAM CHAIR: Excellent, thank you. Can we agree on that? Can we agree that we will attempt to bring ALC here for our first meeting? Yes? Okay, thank you.
MS. STEVENS: If it doesn't work out for September 28th, do I have the go-ahead to put them in as soon as they have a scheduled clearing?
MADAM CHAIR: Yes, I would think so, yes. Is that agreeable? Yes.
Now we need to then look at the additional topics. We do have these topics left over from previous subcommittee meetings and we do have a list that Mr. Graham, at least, has responded to and, Mr. DeWolfe, I would like to hear what your thoughts are so we can try to reach some agreement, hopefully, and give Mora lots of work to do.
MR. DEWOLFE: We do have previously approved witnesses. I guess we should let Mora . . .
MADAM CHAIR: These topics, have any of them been overtaken by any other pressing issues? I guess my concern would be that, for example, the Strait Regional School Board audit, that audit was released, there was an opportunity for members to ask questions, certainly in the past session of the Legislature. I'm not sure that this has the same currency or importance now as perhaps some other areas. I think the whole energy question - and I would concur with Mr. Graham around perhaps going beyond the Service Nova Scotia heat and fuel rebate but also looking at the whole question of gasoline taxation, double taxation. This is very much on the public's mind and in the public interest to have their appointed members, I think, look at, as well as the Industrial Expansion Fund. We've had a fair amount of allocation of dollars through this program in recent days. I don't know what . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: Madam Chair, I tend to agree with you. Energy issues are foremost in everyone's minds these days. I arrived here on $1.19 per litre fuel but I won't be returning on $1.19 per litre fuel.
MR. GRAHAM: You'll have to take a bike, Jim. How far is Pictou East?
MR. DEWOLFE: It's about an hour and 45 minutes of high energy costs. Something that, to a much lesser degree, of course, but nevertheless touches the hearts of many Nova Scotians, is the whole issue of the Bluenose and the Lunenburg Museum Society, the trademark of Bluenose II, and perhaps we should consider having Tourism, Culture and Heritage as well as the museum society in to discuss this issue because Nova Scotians, in their hearts, feel they own the Bluenose and they should own everything, the image and so on.
Back in February, the province announced that the Lunenburg Museum Society would assume operation of the Bluenose II, as we all know. That was effective, I guess, in April. We talked about this once before at the committee level prior to coming, of course, and we didn't have much time to really deal with it. The issue of trademark dispute and the current issue of transfer of funds from the old entity to the new one, I think Nova Scotians deserve to know who actually owns the image and the substance of this famous ship. So I think it's sort of an issue that touches the hearts of many Nova Scotians and all of us are brought up in close proximity to the ocean and have a proud nautical history. I know one person at this table, in particular, likes wooden ships very much and schooners.
MR. GRAHAM: Just a couple of thoughts regarding that. I've been very troubled by what I've read in the newspapers about the dispute around the trademark. This seems to be the battle that never goes away despite it being a fairly simple one. It appears to be made more complex every time one expects a resolution to come. But I would urge a bit of caution with respect to calling them specifically. We had this matter before this committee in the last year, or 18 months, it seems to me and we need to ask ourselves the question to what end. If there are parties in a dispute, is our role to be the arbiter of this or to hear from one party or another or is it something else? I want to be clear on what role we would actually play in furthering the discussion and to whom are we giving an opportunity to say something. If it's one party, or one side, and not the other, then are we becoming quasi-adjudicators or just giving them a platform to say their side of the story? I don't know.
MR. DEWOLFE: I think it would be interesting, for me at least, because I don't have a clear understanding, but I would like to know the rationale behind government's decision to go with the society to look after it and I would like to have a more clear understanding of the economy and the efficiency of the organization. There is a certain amount of funds involved in keeping that ship afloat. I think it's an issue that deserves the attention of this committee.
MR. GRAHAM: In terms of what is material, the size of money that affects the day-to-day lives of Nova Scotians, the total sums in dispute are less than $1 million, as I recall it. If we were to look at the Deloitte & Touche matter, concerning the audit of Finance on governance and control framework, Mr. Salmon may be able to correct me on this, but in that circumstance we're dealing with an issue a thousand times bigger or more than that. I see him nodding. It's a $1 billion issue. So it's of great significance to roads and schools and health and that sort of thing.
MR. SALMON: It's a $5 billion issue.
MR. GRAHAM: A $5 billion issue.
MR. DEWOLFE: If I might respond, Madam Chair, I can sort of equate your comments with someone coming into my office, like the head of Nova Scotia Power, to discuss Native claim issues on lands that they want to run a power line through, because that's perhaps areas they feel are sacred or berry-picking areas; that issue, to the next person who comes in my office, which may be a complaint over a septic tank at the cottage. That issue is just as important to that person with the septic tank as this greater issue of millions of dollars for running a power line through a certain piece of land. You can't do it that way. What's important to some is just as important an issue, and it's not just necessarily totally a dollar value.
MR. GRAHAM: Yes. We don't make our decisions just on dollars and cents, but it's important to keep that in perspective.
MADAM CHAIR: I'm of two minds, I suppose, in some ways. I totally support Mr. Graham's point that we have to, first of all, be really clear about what purpose it would serve in terms of the role of the Public Accounts Committee to examine aspects of a dispute between two entities. I don't think we have any capacity, really, to be arbitrators in this matter that seems to never end, and that if we were to try to examine those issues, we would have to do it, I think, for the purposes of information and understanding. Really, our job is to make these complicated issues more understandable and shed some transparency for the public. So that would require some balance, I would think, because these issues aren't one-sided, there are different perspectives and different parties involved. I don't really know how you do that, except then entering into a process where you do look like you're an arbitrator in some way, bringing people in.
One of the things that I think is genuinely of concern to Nova Scotians, given that we've just gone through the Summer months, is the decline in the number of tourists in the province and what are the features that contributed to this problem, and what planning has the department done to try to address that problem. I could see broadening that topic, perhaps, and not just looking specifically at one area.
I agree with Mr. DeWolfe, the Bluenose is near and dear to all of us. I think we identify strongly with that beautiful ship. But I don't know if we could perhaps have Tourism come in front of us to address a number of issues more broadly, and in that process have an opportunity to address the concern that has been raised. What do you think about that as a possibility?
MR. GRAHAM: I don't have a difficulty with it. It's not common for this committee, in the time that I've been on it, to give a department very distinct subjects to cover when they come before us, but as things often turn out, they are distinct when they show up. So giving them a heads-up that these are the kinds of issues that will be focused on, both the tourism questions and the Bluenose questions, I think helps us. It is an important and topical question.
MR. DEWOLFE: One of my observations, this committee has often deviated from topics. (Interruptions) Having said that, also my own observation with regard to Tourism - and I didn't get any of this from the department or the staff, but I do watch the news and so - and I understand that right across North America people have been staying closer to home, probably because of the energy costs and so on, and no doubt there are other factors, too, but people have been staying closer to home this year. I guess I've been one of them.
MADAM CHAIR: We could put the Department of Tourism on, ask them to speak to the issue of the Bluenose Trust and the new arrangement, and also talk a bit about the current . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: Madam Chair, just keep in mind, too, this is the most active Public Accounts Committee in our great nation. I don't think any other province has more meetings than we do. That's something that maybe we could address. I don't know why we're compelled to having a meeting every week. I know there are some that we miss because witnesses cancel and so on, and rearrange their schedules. But for the most part it's almost a career being on this committee. You can make a career of it. (Laughter)
MR. GRAHAM: This will sound a bit like an editorial, so I'll try to keep it as quick as possible. Perhaps it has always been the case that Question Period wasn't as meaningful an exchange of information as it appears to be right now, but we are living in a time when the people who put us here are frustrated about the quality of the information that comes out of our exchanges. The Public Accounts Committee has served a very valuable purpose for Nova Scotians by being as active as it has been, in particular in getting thoughtful discussion on the table. I'd say that about all the committees, but particularly the Public Accounts Committee has allowed us to really unearth things, and it's not engaged in that sound-bite kind of exchange. I would strongly be advocating that we continue to have a vigorous level of activity.
MR. DEWOLFE: That's easy for you to say, you're not going to be here. (Laughter)
MR. GRAHAM: It's just my parting shot, Jim.
MADAM CHAIR: I've only recently joined the Public Accounts Committee, really; frequently when there were Health matters in front, I would come as our Party's Health Critic. The one thing I would add to the discussion is that I think it's great to have a very active Public Accounts Committee. I find it difficult to get up to speed on very complicated topics from week to week. I always feel, when I've come to the committee, that you sort of fly by the seat of your pants. You get these incredible binders of material you can't possibly review and come prepared. To me, that has been a frustration.
I've thought about this. I thought that maybe having fewer meetings but having longer meetings when we have a meeting might be more effective. One of the things that has concerned me is, two hours, three Parties, the amount of opportunity you actually get to delve into a matter in front of you is fairly limited in some ways. I've often left the committee with some questions that I really wanted to get out and you didn't have time, and that kind of thing. I think an active committee is really important for the public interest. How we do that, I think we should have an open mind and think about possibly having fewer meetings but maybe adding a little time to meetings we have, between meetings, that would allow, then, better preparation. Whether or not that would result in better preparation and more opportunity to really delve into a topic, I don't know. That's just an off-the-top-of-my-head suggestion, something that we can keep in mind, maybe.
MR. DEWOLFE: I'll tell you that one of my observations, too, has been that just going by the nature of some of the questions in the last half hour of some of the meetings, you can pretty much tell that members are running out of steam, and to keep a meeting going for two hours just for the sake of going two hours doesn't make sense either.
MADAM CHAIR: Can we go back to the list of items that were left over? I would recommend that we remove the Strait Regional School Board forensic audit. I think that probably was brought forward, if I remember correctly.
MR. DEWOLFE: It was a long time ago.
MADAM CHAIR: It was a long time ago. I don't think that needs to be there.
MR. GRAHAM: It was brought forward by your predecessor.
MADAM CHAIR: One of my colleagues, yes, and I'm sure they would be okay with that being removed. It's not that the Teachers Union pension issue isn't important, but I don't know that we want to open that can of worms at this stage. I don't know how other people feel about that. If my information is correct here, it was a fractious and very close issue, so there will be people on both sides of this matter. Again, how do you get the balance in front of the committee if we're going to go down that road?
MR. GRAHAM: I'd be interested, perhaps, in the Auditor General's thoughts around that one, if you have any.
MADAM CHAIR: Yes, guidance.
MR. SALMON: Well, it's water under the bridge, in fact the agreement is there. I think you would find, if you called both Finance and the union, they would have a consistent position in terms of the value of the arrangement. Allowing them to do that may be a way to
provide better information to the membership of the union, and perhaps quell the waters in that way. That, to me, would be the only purpose in doing that.
MR. DEWOLFE: Perhaps time is a better healer of those types of labour disputes, though. To bring it out again may in fact stir the pot a bit.
MR. SALMON: It may.
MR. DEWOLFE: We want our children to be attentive at school and their teachers to do their best this year.
MR. SALMON: I think the bottom line is that what was agreed to was of benefit to the provincial coffers at the expense of benefits to the teachers. That's my general understanding of what resulted.
MR. GRAHAM: This was one that we advanced before. I don't see it as being as pressing as the ALC question, as the energy question, as the economic development question, for example, at this point. If there is, and I think there may be some consensus around on ALC - energy is obviously the top issue, and I think the economic development point is an insightful offering, as well. I'd be prepared to let that one stand down if we were moving to those other ones.
MR. DEWOLFE: So we can remove that, is that agreed, Madam Chair?
MADAM CHAIR: Yes. That is agreed. I think the audit, the follow-up, that's an ongoing issue, frankly. It did come out of the Auditor General's Report, I believe. It certainly came from this audit. It's a concern, the need to have a new office, and how that has proceeded. I know we have had people from the Department of Finance, I believe, in front of us on this.
MS. STEVENS: We have had people, and this was a suggestion by Diana Whalen and was approved by the committee. There's only one problem, that this is going to cost quite a bit of money to bring in the auditors, because they audited and they were from all over the country when they came in, because they have their specialties. So it is not going to be something that could be instantly done.
What Graham had suggested was to sit down, the auditor and the chairman to sit down and say, what specific topics do you want to bring in, go back to Deloitte & Touche and say, who would be the people, because they would want to bring in everybody, which is just not practical. It would cost too much money because, of course, we pay for witnesses to come and then there is also an issue of paying for lost time which Rod MacArthur would then become involved in because he is sort of the administrator there. So that's not something that could happen instantly.
MR. GRAHAM: Perhaps we should put the wheels in motion or continue them to be in motion on that and follow our headlights as it goes along.
MADAM CHAIR: With the agreement of the subcommittee, I would meet with Mora and with the Auditor General and get their advice on how to proceed with that.
We have some topics, we have some agreement. I'll wait for him to come back, but I think Mr. DeWolfe did indicate that he felt that energy issues and the economic development issues were valid issues to pursue.
MR. GRAHAM: I'll wait until he comes back. I think if we are to go to a suggestion that he has laid out about covering off some of the subjects that the Auditor General has already touched on, from my perspective Item No. 6 in the handout we received, the Meditech information systems would be the one of greatest interest.
MADAM CHAIR: We are looking, Jim, at the table of contents from the AG's Report. Basically, I think we do have consensus, do we not, on ALC, the relevant parties with respect to energy programs, energy issues and the economic development program and Tourism, we really have a lot for Mora to sort of try to work at and then from the Auditor General's Report, in particular, the Nova Scotia Hospital Information System, perhaps performance indicators. I don't know if we've examined bonus, the question of senior management performance-related pay and performance indicators, I would assume that that would be of interest to look at.
MR. SALMON: Madam Chair, Chapter 7 of the June report on performance indicators is in the health sector and it's really focused on the reports that are being released by Departments of Health right across the country on their performance. It has been an agreed set of performance indicators for consistent reporting and we are involved in auditing the quality of that information. What really interests me is, is there value to those kinds of reports? Are they being used by people like yourselves to hold the government to account for their delivery of health care? I see no media coverage of those reports, no public discussion of how that information is used and it's costly to prepare. So if you are going to get into that, that would be the focus. I would suggest to you that would be the focus of it.
MADAM CHAIR: I think that would be a very worthwhile endeavour, really. Do you agree?
MR. SALMON: We had very good discussions, as Jim can attest to, at this last conference on health care.
MADAM CHAIR: Agreed, I would agree.
MR. GRAHAM: We could blend those two together.
MS. STEVENS: That would be a very big meeting because the Department of Health by itself, unless you wanted to expand the time, they come in very prepared. We've had them in on the hospital information system previously and that's a big topic.
MR. GRAHAM: I'm wondering, that might be one of those three-hour meetings you were looking at.
MADAM CHAIR: Doing a longer meeting and then not having so many around it to give us some prep time.
MS. STEVENS: I could talk to the Department of Health if you wanted, they're usually pretty good. Do you want to try that?
MADAM CHAIR: Sure. Jim, go ahead.
MR. DEWOLFE: Can I ask a question related to the time thing? We did change our meeting time because Graham had some commitments with his children in the mornings and so on. If we were to have longer meetings, our caucus already changed their time to accommodate us. I'm just wondering if we could start early for those meetings if there was an occasion that we were to have say, the Department of Health in? The civil servants are supposedly on the job at 8:30 a.m., so I see no reason why we couldn't have them here at 8:30 a.m. for those extended meetings. That would still put me a little late getting to caucus but late, nevertheless.
MADAM CHAIR: My colleague is still on the committee.
MR. DEWOLFE: No, but he was chairing it, that was the problem, that was more of a problem. Even myself, if I had a commitment early in the morning it wouldn't hurt my feelings to come in 15 or 20 minutes late for a Public Accounts Committee meeting; I could still jump in.
MADAM CHAIR: I understand what you're saying, I don't think it's about hurting people's feelings though. I think we do have a colleague on that committee who continues to probably have child care responsibilities. Let's put it like this . . .
MR. DEWOLFE: And I have commitments to the people of Nova Scotia who I represent too, so it's a broader issue . . .
MADAM CHAIR: . . . I don't know the person who, when we lose Mr. Graham, who knows, the new person may have child care commitments as well. Let's do this, let's go back and I'll go and talk with Graham about that suggestion and see if there is a possibility of
meeting earlier and if we can do that, then certainly we'll accommodate that. I wasn't here for the discussion around the child care issues, however, I'm very sympathetic to the requirement that members of the Legislature, if they have child care commitments, that we try to find some way to give them some family time, because I know how little of that people actually get. We'll certainly, in all seriousness, talk about it and see if that can be accommodated, and I do respect the fact that you've had to change your schedule as well.
MR. DEWOLFE: Not just myself, the entire caucus had to change their schedules.
MADAM CHAIR: Well, perhaps if we had more women in politics this wouldn't be the issue that it is. (Interruptions) I have to say it's very nice to be in a caucus with so many great men who are good parents and young parents. I see it all the time; the amount of time they try to devote to their kids is great.
MR. DEWOLFE: Some of us older people have grandchildren.
MADAM CHAIR: Yes, you'd like to be able to spend time with them, I'm sure. It passes quickly.
So are we agreed? I think we have reached good consensus on a variety of topics that are important and we'll move forward from here. Is that agreed?
MR. DEWOLFE: Agreed.
MR. GRAHAM: Agreed.
MADAM CHAIR: I want to thank you both. I was a little apprehensive, and I leave a lot less apprehensive. It's great. Thank you.
MR. GRAHAM: Welcome aboard, Madam Chair.
MADAM CHAIR: I hope we do have an opportunity in the Fall to get through this agenda. The meeting is adjourned.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 10:11 a.m.]