A Liberal Party plan to alter a legislative spending watchdog committee is part of a political witch hunt, says Premier Dennis Fentie.
Last week, Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell suggested the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, an all-party body that investigates government spending, reorganize to shift power away from the Yukon Party majority that opposition MLAs say blocks the committee’s work.
The proposal would remove one seat on the seven-member committee from the Yukon Party’s four and add it to the NDP’s one, giving the opposition four seats and the majority.
“Mr. Mitchell (is in) no place to talk about restructuring anything about this committee — he quit,” said Fentie in an interview on Friday.
“Mr. Mitchell’s approach is obvious — it’s political in nature.
“It’s a witch hunt. He’s after people and he’s using the democratic process to do that.”
The Yukon Party used its majority to block an investigation into a now-frozen $36.5-million investment in asset-backed commercial paper that the government has yet to recover, said Mitchell.
In March, the four government members on the committee — Glenn Hart, Marian Horne, Patrick Rouble and Steve Nordick — voted against holding hearings about the investment.
Mitchell and Liberal MLA Don Inverarity resigned in protest after the vote, though technically they can’t be removed until a legislative motion is made.
Finance officials have been cleared of any wrongdoing, so there’s no need for an investigation, said Fentie.
Mitchell said he would seek Yukon Party support for committee changes, which would have to be made by the legislature.
Fentie wouldn’t confirm if he would support changes if they went to the legislature.
“Those committees are structured as they are,” said Fentie.
“It’s working because this government ensured it’s working.”
Earlier in the year, the committee met to follow up an Auditor General report investigating government spending for the Canada Winter Games.
NDP Leader Todd Hardy supports the Liberal proposal.
“I’m not going to object to the reorganization,” said Hardy in an interview Monday.
“But there’s no way in the world it would happen.”
MLA John Edzerza is the sole NDP member on the committee.
The government will never relinquish power to the opposition, said Hardy.
He suggests making the board equal, giving the opposition and government the same amount of seats.
The balanced board would force party co-operation, he said.
“As long as one side holds power, there’s always an imbalance,” said Hardy.
But sabotaging the committee is the wrong course of action because it can still do a lot of good work, he added.
“(Mitchell) didn’t get his way, so he quit,” said Hardy.
“But there are government corporations that need investigation, every department needs to be looked at. This isn’t just about asset-backed commercial paper.”
Mitchell should get serious about his duty to the Yukon public instead of playing political games, said Fentie.
“Issuing press releases isn’t going to do anything. He’s got to wrap his mind around what his responsibilities are and his duty to the public.”