N.S. Premier Darrell Dexter filed excessive expense claims on laptops, camera

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - Premier Darrell Dexter, who has forged a reputation as a prudent fiscal manager, was one of several Nova Scotia politicians who filed expense claims that were flagged as "excessive" by the provincial auditor general, his office said Wednesday.
Auditor general Jacques Lapointe released a report that found some politicians used taxpayers' money to buy items including custom-made furniture, cameras and an espresso maker in a political scandal that bore some of the hallmarks of one that rocked Newfoundland and Labrador nearly four years ago.
The report left members of all three main political parties in full damage control mode as they attempted to deflect uncomfortable questions about the appropriateness of their spending habits, even though Lapointe declined to name names.
A spokesman for Dexter, who was out of the country on vacation, said the premier wanted it known that he was among those singled out by Lapointe for his spending practices.
Shawn Fuller said it was Dexter who spent $2,150 on a digital camera and that the $5,501 Dexter spent was for two laptops - contrary to Lapointe's report that said it was for one.
"The premier does not intend to debate whether the expenses were reasonable," said Fuller. "Rather, he simply intends to repay them."
Lapointe's report also identified several expense claims for personal items he said were inappropriate, including nearly $8,000 for a generator installed at a legislative member's residence and $1,260 for parking lot sanding from a company owned by a member's brother.
Excessive expenditures listed in the report included $13,445 for custom-made office furniture, $790 for a model boat office display and $738 for an espresso maker.
Dexter's office revealed that it was Natural Resources Minister John MacDonell who had bought the office furniture. An official said MacDonell acquired the pieces from local craftsmen over several years and repaid the sum last year when it was pointed out that the expenses might be "outside the norm."
Lapointe also said he found that one member bought 11 computers and 12 printers within a three-year period.
At a news conference, Lapointe pointed the blame at a lack of rules governing spending by the 52-members of the Nova Scotia legislature.
"They are so ambiguous and so poor and they are applied so badly that it gets to the point where its hard to say a lot about any of these things, even though it seems perhaps obvious to us that this is just wrong," he said.
"Nevertheless, you need to have clear definitions of right and wrong in the system."
He found that some claims were provided without original invoices or evidence that payments were made. He also said 28 politicians submitted claims totalling more than $14,000 for expenses they had already claimed.
Lapointe audited the expenses filed by and paid to members of the legislature between July 2006 and June 2009.
"The extent to which system weaknesses, processing errors, innocent mistakes or conscious decisions by members contributed to these expenditures is unclear," Lapointe wrote in his report.
Lapointe said it was a difficult decision not to identify the politicians whose expenses he questioned, but added it's his office's policy.
"Right or wrong, I decided that's the best route to follow," Lapointe said. "And as to whether there should be disclosure of names, I guess that's really up to the members of the house to decide whether they want to be transparent about their own affairs."
Speaker Charlie Parker, who heads the internal legislative committee responsible for setting the rules on members' expenses, said he was the politician who bought the model boat.
Parker said the replica of the ship Hector, from a local artisan, was for his constituency office and has historical significance to his community. But he said he would repay the province the cost of the display.
He said he didn't have the authority to release any names and believed it was up to individual members to come forward.
"I think individual members have to look themselves in the mirror and decide whether they want to release any information about themselves," Parker said, adding that his focus now was on fixing the system.
Tory member Richard Hurlburt said he was the member who purchased the $8,000 generator two years ago. But he said he purchased the generator to assist local organizations in the event of a power failure and for ground search and rescue operations.
"The generator is currently at my home for the purpose of keeping it charged," he said in a statement. "It is not and has never been used for personal purposes."
Both Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil and interim Conservative Leader Karen Casey said they would make themselves available Thursday to discuss their expenses.
Lapointe said he found no evidence of possible criminal wrongdoing, noting that some procedures have since been tightened and some politicians have paid back money.
He said legislative members receive significant funding for which they are not accountable, adding that regulations aren't clear on the purpose of the funds provided.
Lapointe's findings are similar to those made by his counterpart in Newfoundland and Labrador after that province's spending scandal erupted in 2006.
At the time, John Noseworthy said Newfoundland's legislature was plagued by "basically non-existent" financial controls. A year later, he found that more than $2 million in public money was spent inappropriately on a range of items including cigarettes, lottery tickets, jewelry and artwork.
Those findings led to an overhaul in rules that govern constituency allowance spending in Newfoundland.
However, unlike in Nova Scotia, four ex-politicians and a former bureaucrat were charged and later convicted of fraud-related charges.
Late Wednesday, Liberal member Keith Colwell said he repaid $252 to the Speaker's Office after Lapointe said his purchase of 3-D art from his brother was inappropriate.
And NDP backbencher Leonard Preyra said he reimbursed the Speaker $373 for airfare that Lapointe said was a personal item. Preyra said he made the claim in error because of confusion over the receipt issued by the airline.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, HALIFAX

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Recent comments

  • shame on u dexter
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    We were warned by the people in Ontario about voting NDP Wished we had of listened .The truth is We Ain't Seen Nothing Yet. Shame on you Dexter and your Hollow Promises :0(

  • dave
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    just what has mr. dexter done to get the reputation as a prudent fiscal manager? he either lied or was ignorant by choice during the campaign when he said he would balance the budget and not raise taxes. he then brought in pretty well the same budget that he defeated the governement on, then he gave the provincial gov unions everything they asked for - while sending his finance minister around telling everyone they should really like to pay higher taxes because he can't do his job like he promised he would.

  • Concerned
    March 01, 2010 - 14:39

    Expenses should be more closely monitored. Every expense should be double checked against the receipts. No receipt - no chance of reimbrusement. A group of taxpayers should monitor and decide if it is a valid expense. Not within the government itself!!! Then monthly expense monies left over should be applied to the Provinces debt load. We are in a recession, so everyone needs to spend wiser....There is a big difference between want and need...This applies to the Provincial Government as well.