HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s Tories are promising to introduce a “no-boondoggle guarantee” if they are elected in the May 30 provincial election.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie says any time a government project exceeds its budget by more than 10 per cent, that would trigger an automatic internal audit, the results of which would be made public.
“It’s a guarantee to the taxpayers of this province that when their tax money gets squandered that they’re going to know about it,” he said Friday at his campaign headquarters in Halifax, though he had few details to offer when asked how the new law would work.
Baillie would not set a threshold when asked what level of government spending would be covered by the guarantee. And he said a Conservative government would work out the details later when asked if the new rules would come with any legislative teeth, like fines or other penalties.
He was also unclear about who would conduct the audits, saying only they would be independent.
“The main benefit is that it would be made public and everyone would know, and the premier and responsible ministers would be held accountable for the boondoggle itself,” he told a news conference. “There’s no greater cleaner than the light of day.”
As an example, he pointed to the reconstruction of the schooner Bluenose II, which was plagued by cost-overruns and legal wrangling for years. In 2014, less than a year after the Liberals assumed power, Premier Stephen McNeil said the previous NDP government’s handling of the file resulted in a “boondoggle” that required a full review by the province’s auditor general.
Baillie said such a review would be automatic under his no-boondoggle guarantee.
“It’s a guarantee of accountability and transparency,” he said.
Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil argued that the province’s projects are already “stage-gated,” a project management approach to keep project budgets and timelines in check.
“You’re adding more bureaucracy on top of what is already taking place,” he said, noting that government projects are already accounted for.
On the Bluenose II file, McNeil said his government knew “very quickly that the former government had put it in the wrong department and that the process had gotten out of control.”
He said the schooner was moved back into the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, where projects are monitored closely.
McNeil added that if Baillie is “looking for accountability,” he should start with the “$480 million hole in his budget.”
As for other projects, Baillie cited the province’s decision to invest heavily in the private ferry service that links Nova Scotia with Maine.
Last year, Baillie said the company running the service, Bay Ferries,”hosed” the government so badly it resulted in a “boondoggle.”
Baillie’s latest campaign pledge was part of a package of reforms aimed at increasing accountability among the political parties and the government.
He said the province also needs an independent office to oversee ethics of conflict of interest. That office would report to the legislature and not to the governing party, he said.
One of his more unorthodox commitments is a plan to have all political parties submit their election platforms to independent audits prior to every election.
He later confirmed that his party platform had not been audited, and he declined to subject it to an independent financial review now, saying there wasn’t enough time left in the campaign.
Baillie also promised to introduce fixed election dates for the province, which is the only one in Canada that doesn’t already have them.
“No more elections decided by the whim of the premier,” Baillie said, adding that McNeil spent tens of millions of dollars prior to calling the election, all the while claiming he was not motivated by a political agenda.
“We had three years of cuts, then three months of record spending — that only increases the frustration that people are feeling.”
As well, Baillie pledged his government would order a full review of provincial finances six months before each election to ensure no future government could go back on their promises by claiming they didn’t know the state of the province’s books.
“That sorry excuse will be gone,” he said.