People should be angry about N.S. spending scandal, finance minister says

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HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's finance minister says people should be angry about an embarrassing political spending scandal that has cost one politician his job and dominated headlines across the province for two weeks.
Graham Steele, speaking Thursday after a cabinet meeting, said he's received an earful from residents as he's travelled the province seeking suggestions on how the NDP government should deal with a massive budget deficit.
"People are angry and they should be angry because their money has been wasted, and has been spent on things that should never have been bought with their money," he said.
The minister conceded the scandal has made it difficult for him to seek input from Nova Scotians.
"The whole issue, obviously, makes things tougher," he said. "You just have to look at the list of items to say, 'Look, there's no reason why a constituency office should have all of these electronic things.' "
The province's auditor general released a three-year audit earlier this month citing numerous examples of inappropriate or excessive spending and the need to clean up vague rules and inadequate oversight.
Former Tory cabinet minister Len Goucher spent $43,982 during his three years in the legislature - the most of any member. The purchases included 11 computers, 12 printers and four video recorders between 2006 and 2009.
Another former Tory minister, Richard Hurlburt, quit politics last Tuesday after it was revealed he spent $2,400 on a LCD television and $8,000 on a generator that was installed at his home.
Last week, auditor general Jacques Lapointe confirmed he received new information that prompted him to launch a forensic investigation. He declined to offer details, but he said the probe would look into possible illegalities.
Dan O'Connor, Dexter's chief of staff, said there has been no discussion among the three main party leaders about calling a public inquiry into the scandal.
He said there appears to be little interest in an inquiry because such a probe would take at least a year to complete and cost more than $1 million.
"We want to get on with fixing things," he said.
Steele said it's important to put things into perspective.
While the scandal involves questionable spending worth tens of thousands of dollars, Steele said he's looking for ways to reduce a deficit that will be worth $1.3 billion in three years - unless big changes are made.
"I'm not in any way trying to minimize the hurt and the outrage caused by the ... expense stuff," he said. "(But) it's a different question than how to get back to balanced (budgets)."
Earlier, the New Democrats released a list of members' expenses related to their constituency assistants, and services related to their constituency offices, including window cleaning, garbage disposal and snow removal.
The party asked the Speaker's Office to produce the list after the auditor general raised concerns about taxes potentially owed by constituency staff for extra payments they received between 2006 and 2009.
The opposition Liberals and Conservatives have said they won't produce a list of extra payments, saying it is up to each elected member to do that.
Meanwhile, the NDP document reveals Premier Darrell Dexter was the biggest spender when it came to using constituency funds for extra staff, paying a total of $42,000 for two part-time workers during the three-year period.
Dexter was unavailable for comment Thursday. He was in Washington, D.C., for a meeting.
Deputy premier Frank Corbett said Dexter's expenses are understandable because he was Opposition leader at the time.
"It's a high volume office," he said. "He had extra staff because he was the leader of the Opposition (and) would have lots of calls from outside his constituency."
Corbett said it was his understanding that members of the legislature had to tell their staff it was up to them to make sure taxes were paid on any extra payments they received.
In total, members of the NDP caucus spent roughly $198,000 on extra staff and a variety of services and expenses.

Organizations: NDP, New Democrats, Conservatives

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Nova Scotians, Washington, D.C.

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  • betty
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    Hey now! How about our local girl Karen Casey!! Lies of ommission and supreme arrogance out of this one!! This is a fine example of a teacher and how to avoid being honest and upfront..'it is not my place' not once but Twice!!!...get real Karen you lied and do not have the morals or ethics to be upfront.

  • Jennifer
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    I am so disappointed with Karen Casey. I am not sure how she can look in the mirror when she gets up in the morning. There is no way she should be in public service now, and especially not as a leader. I gave you my vote Ms. Casey. I have taken that back and it won't be soon enough to see you resign or get voted back where you belong (out to pasture).

  • Roger
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    He said there appears to be little interest in an inquiry because such a probe would take at least a year to complete and cost more than $1 million
    I wonder who he is refering to as having little interest? When the only ones who could call for the public inquiry are the ones being investigated!

  • dave
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    roger - he also likes to claim there's a general consensus that we should pay more taxes - the mans a lawyer by trade - trust nothing he says.

  • Sarah
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    Of course we're angry! But what difference does it make?
    They should all be charged with theft but apparently being a politician is the only job in the country who is exempt from stealing from the workplace!
    Disgusting!