All it takes is a majority on a committee to say no to an opposition demand to know about a mysterious $27 million of public money. Funny, isn’t it, although not in a ha-ha way.
Even if the public wasn’t deliberately misled, as Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald said Wednesday, still the public has expectations of absolute clarity about how its money is handled. Even taken in perspective – a 2012-13 deficit of $238, as it turned out, alongside an overall budget of $9.5 billion – $27 million isn’t chump change.
That was what the auditor general said too, that it was significant enough to correct, when Jacque Lapointe reiterated this discrepancy last week and stated the government knew about it when the budget was released last spring.
In chasing down explanations on this, the opposition had called for MacDonald and Graham Steele, finance minister at the time of the budget release, to appear before the legislature’s public accounts committee, but that was voted down.
There’s nothing to hide, MacDonald said. There was no intention to deceive anyone, she added. We certainly hope not.
Obviously some miscalculations were entered originally, corrected afterward, but the lower number was issued as the projected deficit, even though the true figure was known by the time the budget was announced. That is Lapointe’s assertion.
Forecasts are just that. MacDonald explained that department staff submit budget estimates. We can understand that. Circumstances change through the year, we receive updates of any ups and downs and altered expectations.
A couple of good reasons to go ahead with such a committee review would be to clear up any questions lingering among the public and political watchdogs. It wouldn’t be time wasted, it would just be a matter of tidying up – and probably wouldn’t take long if it’s as simple as the government suggests.
If there is nothing to hide, that’s fine. But until the public learns the details, we’ll always suspect there is.