MLAs call for public hearings on wayward investments

Post-auditor general — a difficult time for any government probed by the venerable civil servant, Shelia Fraser — there are still…

Post-auditor general — a difficult time for any government probed by the venerable civil servant, Shelia Fraser — there are still important questions left unanswered about the future of a $36.5-million investment.

Several Yukon MLAs want the Public Accounts Committee to hold public hearings to ask Finance officials, just who knew what, when?

When did the Finance department learn it was not getting back its money?

When and how did it learn officials broke the territory’s financial laws, and who knew about it?

“These are tough questions,” said NDP MLA and committee member John Edzerza.

“The public has doubts about the discrepancies in government statements.”

Last week, Fraser reported government investment in asset-backed commercial paper violated the Financial Administration Act.

The two investments were not backed by the federal government, nor guaranteed or backed by banks or the trust handling the investment.

In November Edzerza called for the committee to investigate the wayward investment.

Now that the government has Fraser’s report, there is more reason to question finance officials, he said.

“We’re not dealing with speculation anymore because we have a complete report,” said Edzerza.

“We don’t have to second-guess anything.”

The Public Accounts Committee met this week to discuss Fraser’s other report, a review of the government’s role in the Canada Winter Games.

That meeting was scheduled months ago because the government knew the report was coming.

To hold another public hearing to review the investment audit, the committee must first meet to decide if it will even discuss the report in committee.

Committee chair and Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell is trying to set up a meeting.

The Yukon Party holds a majority on the committee.

Yukon Party MLAs Patrick Rouble, Steve Nordick, Glenn Hart and Marian Horne, and Liberal Don Inverarity are the other members.

The committee should meet in the next two to three weeks, Mitchell said.

Because of his tie-breaking role as chair, he declined to say if he is in favour of holding a public hearing.

“I don’t want to prejudice or colour the opinions of other members,” he said.

As Opposition leader, Mitchell called for Premier Dennis Fentie to resign as Finance minister.

Mitchell’s letter to the auditor general sparked her probe into the territory’s asset-backed commercial paper investment.

“The report speaks for itself,” he said.

Calls to Nordick, the committee vice-chair, and Horne were not returned by press time.

The party’s committee members haven’t had a chance to discuss bringing the report to the committee, said Rouble.

He wouldn’t say if he wanted to discuss it.

“I want to talk to others to see how to proceed,” he said.

On December 6 in the legislature, acting Finance Minister Elaine Taylor suggested the committee wait until a report was in hand before meeting.

“This is something that the Public Accounts Committee may wish to review but they would probably want to wait until they have the review in hand from the auditor general of Canada,” said Taylor.

The public is hungry for answers about their money, said Inverarity.

“The single question I get from people, in the supermarket or on the street, is ‘How’s my 36 million bucks doing?’” he said.

“The issue is rules are set up and they weren’t followed.”

Inverarity also sent a letter to the committee in November asking the chair to convene a meeting on the investments.

The non-partisan committee doesn’t focus on whom to blame, but rather how to improve government management, he said.

It should take the politics out of the process.

“This isn’t about being a Liberal or from the Yukon Party or NDP — it’s about good governance,” said Inverarity.