PC MPs backtrack as PM calls for placement agency audit

A day after government MLAs on a committee of the Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly rejected forensic audit applications from a Cape Breton employment agency, Premier Tim Houston said we had to move forward.

Island Employment closed in November after the province terminated its contract six months earlier. This followed a damning report by Nova Scotia Ombudsman, William Smith, which found gross misuse or mismanagement of public funds.

At a Wednesday meeting of the Legislature’s public accounts committee, the NDP introduced a motion calling on Auditor General Kim Adair, who attended the meeting, to conduct the forensic audit. This motion was defeated by the PC majority of the committee.

But Houston said Thursday that he personally always wanted to do a forensic audit. He said the PC caucus discussed the issue after the committee meeting and decided it was the right course of action.

“We want this forensic audit. We think it’s appropriate and necessary,” Houston said in an interview with CBC News. “More information is always better.”

Following the caucus meeting, PC MP Nolan Young, deputy chair of the public accounts committee, wrote a letter to committee chair Kelly Regan saying PC members had voted in “error”. He asked for another vote to take place so that the party could support the motion.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston. (Robert Short/CBC)

PC connection

Prior to its closure, Jane Orrell was the executive director of Island Employment, which was based in Sydney. She is the wife of former PC MLA Eddie Orrell. Houston denied that the earlier decision to avoid a forensic audit was related to his former colleague.

NSGEU President Jason MacLean, whose union represented many of the agency’s employees, has repeatedly urged the province to conduct a forensic audit of Island Employment.

MacLean argues that the audit would clear its members of wrongdoing and shed full light on what happened within the organization.

But Deputy Labor Minister Ava Czapalay told the commission on Wednesday that it was difficult for the ombudsman to obtain the documents needed for his investigation and that she believed a forensic audit would yield similar results. , or even worse.

“We believe the records would be even more incomplete at this time because those responsible for the embezzlement of public funds have been fully aware of Mr. Smith’s work since, I will say since the release of his interim report in December 2020,” Czapalay said. .

‘Enlightening and instructive’ testimonial

Adair, the auditor general, told the committee it was up to them how to proceed on the NDP’s motion asking her to audit Island Employment. But she said she listened to the testimony and found it “illuminating and instructive” and was unaware of the specifics.

Prior to the vote, Young requested a three-minute recess to consider the motion. But when the committee reconvened and the vote was called, the MPP for Shelburne and his colleague voted against.

In his subsequent letter to his fellow all-party committee members, he said the PC caucus actually supported the motion.

“I ask you to pose this question to the members,” he wrote.