NS: Yarmouth council debates forensic audit for industrial commission

Tina Comeau
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The Vanguard

Town councillor Ken Langille said he feels the air needs to be cleared given that in an ombudsman report two years ago, and in the recent forensic audit on SWSDA, there have been questions raised about the relationship between the two organizations.

Yarmouth Town Councillor Ken Langille listens as councillor Dan MacIsaac speaks to the motion. TINA COMEAU PHOTO

[YARMOUTH, NS] — Yarmouth town council has approved a motion to send a letter to the Yarmouth Area Industrial Commission requesting that it ask the province’s attorney general to conduct a forensic audit on the industrial commission.

It will be up to the board of the industrial commission to decide if it wants to contact Ross Landry to make the request.

Not everyone on town council feels a forensic audit is necessary. The motion was approved by a 5-2 vote.

The motion was raised by town councillor Ken Langille, who said he feels the air needs to be cleared given that in an ombudsman report two years ago, and in the recent forensic audit on SWSDA (the South West Shore Development Authority), there have been questions raised about the relationship between the two organizations.

“I’m hoping they don’t find anything. I’m hoping that financial oversight committee, when all is said and done, that it comes out that they did a sterling job, which I believe they have,” said Langille. But his concern is that there seems be a cloud hanging over the industrial commission. He thinks it would benefit everyone to have the unanswered questions answered.

“I see it as a proactive motion, that they’re going to come out very positive. If we’ve got nothing to hide, which, I’m confident we don’t, it’s fine. It’s not going to cost the taxpayers of Yarmouth town any money.”

Langille said the request would be that the province foot the bill.

 “If the minister says no, great. If the minister says yes, they come in and they do the audit and we’re all squeaky clean, everything looks good,” Langille added. “I’d hate to see any more skeletons fall out of any more closets. This area has been hurt enough by these because we have really got to start to get economic development moving in this area. We have these clouds hanging over us, it’s so hard to do that.”

But Councillor Esther Dares isn’t in favour of spending any taxpayer dollars on what she called a fishing expedition.

“I think it’s frivolous. I think it’s incredible that one of the only two members of this council that doesn’t serve on the industrial commission is making this motion. He’s acknowledged it's a shot in the dark. A wild, unsubstantiated guess,” said Dares.

“We want to spend taxpayers’ money on a forensic audit? As if enough money hasn’t been spent already,” she added.

Councillor Martin Pink also doesn’t feel an expensive forensic audit is needed. He said when concerns about the industrial commission were raised in the past, a financial oversight committee was formed to address the issue. This committee took over accounting controls of the commission and provided it with clear direction. Pink feels the committee has addressed and dealt with any issues that a forensic audit, looking back over past years, might point to.

Pink said the single biggest drain on the industrial commission over the past few years has been the Domtex building. He added if citizens have questions or concerns about the industrial commission, there are many councillors who could answer these questions.

Still, the majority of others around the table don’t think it's a bad idea to ask for a forensic audit.

Councillor Neil MacKenzie said SWSDA and the industrial commission were very much entwined in the past and money moved back and forth freely, often without board approval.

“People need to have answers. We can’t just say, ‘Well, it’s going to cost us money so let’s not do it.’ I agree that I dread having to spend the money to do it . . . but again it’s up to the industrial commission board to make that decision.”

Councillor Dan MacIsaac also doesn’t see anything wrong with asking for a forensic audit. He said he has questions he’d like to have answered and so does the public.

“If the provincial government is willing to foot this bill I would say that’s taxpayers’ money brought to Yarmouth that would be well used if we can get it from Halifax. We get very little, so if we can get any it would be a benefit,” MacIsaac said.

Organizations: Yarmouth town council, South West Shore Development Authority, Yarmouth Area Industrial Commission

Geographic location: YARMOUTH, Halifax

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