Agriculture Minister concerned with lack of information from NSPE Commission
TRURO - Mismanagement by the former board of directors at the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition (NSPE) has prompted a decision by the province to conduct a financial audit of the facility's operations.
© Joey Smith - Truro Daily News
Bruce Kennedy, chairman of the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition board, says efforts are being made to put the NSPE on a more solid footing.
"The reason we decided to do that was because the province has been owed just under $500,000 for some time now and no payments have been made on it," Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell told the Truro Daily News, of the reason for deciding to hire an accounting firm to do a financial audit of the NSPE commission's handling of its affairs.
"And we requested information from the past forward but they just simply didn't provide it to us."
The NSPE owes more than $420,000 to the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board (FLB).
Prior to a new board being elected last August, no payments or communication had been forthcoming from the commission to the FLB for the past 18 months, according to board chairman Bruce Kennedy, who was elected to the position earlier this month after previous chairman John Douglas stepped down.
A financial review of the NSPE last August by auditing firm Grant Thornton showed the commission to be $1.1 million in debt and in an insolvent state, although efforts have been made in recent months to reduce that amount.
Colwell said he met with Kennedy last week at the chairman's request to discuss the facility's overall financial situation and following that discussion the province decided to take action.
"There was some discrepancies they found of, I would say, of inappropriate management stuff," Colwell said. "Nothing that was criminal or anything like that. But there was some questions they couldn't answer that they needed answers to. We asked them if they would like us to do an audit ... they said ‘by all means.' I think it will be a great tool for them to move forward with."
An auditing tender is to be called in the near future, he said.
"We want the facility to be operational. It's very important for the province and the services they provide and a great economic generator for the Truro area," Colwell said, adding that he hopes the audit will help provide a more sound financial direction that will make the NSPE a viable facility "that can work long into the future."
But he said it is important that the NSPE become a self-sustaining venture. And while the province will bear the cost of the audit, it has no interest in paying off the facility's debts.
"The province is not going to pay off any of the debt, at this point, and as long as our loan, the payments are being made on it on a regular basis, we will be fine with that," Colwell said.
"I think we need a whole different direction in management and the new board that's there now has already made some pretty solid decisions. They're going in the right direction and this will give them, I think, a road map to go the rest of the direction."
Colwell said the audit is intended to help further that goal.
"This audit is not just about ensuring the farm loan board's loan is paid, it is also about ensuring that the commission deals with its outstanding debts to all creditors," he said. "I commend the commission's new board of directors for its efforts to ensure the long-term viability of the commission and its facilities, and am confident an audit will help ensure that."
A number of staff have been laid off at the facility in recent weeks and Kennedy said efforts are being made to put the NSPE on a more solid footing.
"We discovered through the management of people there's a lot of hours wasted," he said. "In the area of horse racing there was barns wasted, so we were paying power on barns we didn't need."
Kennedy said new revenue has to be found to address the NSPE's debts but the board is not expecting the province to pick up that tab.
"We can't lean on the province and they have made that loud and clear. We've never asked anybody to write off a debt and we have no intention of doing that," he said.