Yukon Party MLAs block public hearing into investments

Yukon Party MLAs are blocking a public hearing into an auditor general’s report on the government’s $36.

Yukon Party MLAs are blocking a public hearing into an auditor general’s report on the government’s $36.5-million investment in third-party asset-backed commercial paper, says the Opposition.

The four government members of the Public Accounts Committee voted against a public hearing into the report on Wednesday, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell, who chaired the seven-member committee.

Now Mitchell and Liberal committee member Don Inverarity have resigned in protest.

“This committee is unable to perform its oversight function free from government interference,” Mitchell told a media conference on Thursday.

“This has now effectively become cover-up. There are many unanswered questions and we many never get those answers.”

The final vote on whether or not to hold a public hearing was four to two. All four Yukon Party members voted against a hearing, said Mitchell, who, as chair, only votes to break a tie.

Mitchell declined to elaborate on arguments made by either side, deferring to individual members to discuss their comments.

The Public Accounts Committee is a non-partisan body that holds public hearings into government spending.

The committee can call witnesses from the bureaucracy to answer questions about public finances.

“The current government does not want the scrutiny that will come with a hearing that will allow committee members to question officials,” said Mitchell.

“We can ask questions in the legislative assembly, but the government refuses to tell us what bank was used … who made the decisions. They continue to claim these are bank guaranteed.”

“We’ll only get straight answers from the officials.”

Canada’s auditor general Sheila Fraser released her report into the frozen $36.5 million last month.

The investment did not follow rules laid out in the Financial Administration Act, but there was no malicious intent, she reported.

Her investment investigation was released along with an audit of the government spending on the 2007 Canada Winter Games.

The committee discussed that report last month at a public hearing.

Mitchell should resign from the legislature, said Premier Dennis Fentie in an interview Thursday.

“It’s completely irresponsible for Mitchell and Inverarity to shirk their duty and politicize the Public Accounts Committee,” said Fentie.

“Their resignations are a demonstration of their lack of credible leadership and delivering on their commitments to the Yukon public as elected people.”

A public inquiry is not needed because Fraser’s report is public and policies have been changed so that these investments can’t be made again, said Fentie.

“As far as we’re concerned, we’re moving on,” he said.

“Information has been fully disclosed all along.”

He learned about the frozen investments along with the public, said Fentie.

Fentie spoke on behalf of the Yukon Party committee members, Glenn Hart, Marian Horne, Patrick Rouble and Steve Nordick.

Their votes were individual decision, not a cabinet decision, said Fentie.

Inverarity and NDP MLA John Edzerza, a committee member, sent letters to the committee asking to meet about the twin investments, which remain in limbo.

Yukon Party members responded that a meeting should be held until after the fall session, and then only after the auditor general’s report.

“These were the first signs that the government intended to play politics and not allow this committee to do its work independently,” said Mitchell.

“I can’t imagine another jurisdiction in Canada where this much money could have been put in jeopardy, and there are so many unanswered questions and a committee would not look into it.”

Resigning is not giving up, said Mitchell.

“There’s no opportunity now in public accounts to explore this and I see no point in sitting on a committee that (won’t discuss) the single biggest issue that has come up since this committee has existed.”

Contact Jeremy Warren at:

jeremyw@yukon-news.com