N.B. auditor general targets province's deal with Saint John, lax security on health cards in scathing report
Published Tuesday, June 11, 2019 10:16PM ADT
New Brunswick Auditor General Kim MacPherson has issued another scathing report.
This time, she has gone after certain departments and how she says they're taking “risks” with taxpayer money.
She won't name names, and she's not assigning blame, but MacPherson says two laws were broken when the former New Brunswick government bailed out the city of Saint John using $22.8 million in taxpayer dollars.
“The concern is how the interests of the taxpayers seem to take second place,” MacPherson said.
Here's the background: In July of 2017, Saint John Mayor Don Darling said his city was in a financial crisis. Then-premier Brian Gallant made a guarantee the province would help. By March of 2018, the city and province had inked a “new deal” worth up to $22.8 million dollars over three years.
Saint John Liberal MLA, Gerry Lowe, who was a city councillor at the time, says the city was desperate.
“We were talking about closing the fire station, laying off firefighters, police,” Lowe said. “We were going to stop cutting grass, start closing down playgrounds …”
But that’s not what this is about.
Rather MacPherson says she's concerned with the arrangement -- and how it came to be.
“It's a unique arrangement that Saint John has a preferred deal unlike any other municipality in this province, where, for the next three years, their deficit is going to be backed by the province, by the provincial taxpayer,” MacPherson said.
Ernie Steeves, New Brunswick’s new Finance Minister, said he doesn’t approve of the deal.
“It was a deal that seemed to reward them if they went into a deficit situation,” Steeves said.
But, he says, the Blaine Higgs government will honour it until its completion next year.
“It's a statement of fact that they were looking at the upcoming election and being strategic,” MacPherson said.
MacPherson also calls the timing suspect and says the city leveraged the upcoming election to gain support.
Don Darling denies that.
“Undue influence, leveraging elections, asking folks to break rules ... absolutely not,” Darling said.
Gallant left the house before he could be questioned, but it’s not over yet.
MacPherson also found that the former government, potentially, obstructed her from gaining access to some documents.
And she says the report may not be complete.
“You don't know, what you don't know,” MacPherson said, putting everyone on notice that there's very little that she cannot access.
MacPherson also did a deep dive into the province’s medicare cards.
They are automatically renewed for New Brunswick residents, but the process to renew, or cancel, the cards is inconsistent.
MacPherson says there are more cards out there than there are New Brunswickers and there have been 157 privacy breaches over the last two years.
“The decision in 2014 to change the renewal process removed a lot of the inherent safety mechanisms to make sure the cards did not continue to be in the hands of people who are no longer eligible for New Brunswick medicare benefits,” MacPherson said.
She’s calling for the addition of photo identification to access a medicare card in order to enhance security.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.