The release Thursday of a forensic examination by auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers shouldn’t come as a surprise to most observers of the final years of the former Cumberland County development authority.
What’s unfortunate is that improper funding practices will likely be lasting legacy of the Cumberland Regional Development Authority, not what it did for economic development or tourism in an area that has seen more than its share of tough economic times.
The auditor’s 700-page report contains what PricewaterhouseCoopers found during its investigation of the former development agency as well as recommendations for improving the governance of future organizations like the new regional enterprise networks that will be expected to pick up where the regional development authorities left off when their mandates were ended just over a year ago by the province.
PricewaterhouseCoopers round 24 false invoices as well as eight additional questionable invoices totaling nearly $790,000 over four years. That information helped secure $256,000 in provincial funding during that time.
It’s no surprise that everything wasn’t as it seemed at CRDA and it’s no surprise that Economic and Rural Development Minister Michel Samson has turned the matter over to the RCMP to investigate to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
CRDA had its detractors, but for many years no one was willing to listen to them because all seemed well at the development authority. There was no reason to delve deeper into the claims of mismanagement or irregularities. All seemed well as several major projects came to fruition and those who supported CRDA held it up as a model to be followed by others.
The forensic examination shows just how wrong we were.
There’s no telling if charges will be laid in connection with what took place at CRDA. Saying they will is to pre-judge the RCMP’s investigation, but it’s safe to say the new regional enterprise networks will have many more checks and balances in place to make there’s greater transparency and little chance for mismanagement.
Still, as much as the examination criticizes how CRDA was managed, we must not forget about the good things the organization did in bringing UNESO World Heritage status to the Joggins Fossil Centre.
CRDA also figured prominently in restoring historic Thinker’s Lodge in Pugwash so that future generations will know about the peace conferences that took place at the former summer home of Cyrus Eaton in the late 1950s and many summers since then.
It also played a huge role in the development of Cape Chignecto Provincial Park near Advocate Harbour and helped bring tourist and economic development to the Fundy Shore.
Unfortunately, CRDA will he held up as an example of what not to do rather than as the model many thought it was. In a sense, that’s an unfortunate turn of events for Cumberland County.