TRURO – The province’s handling of the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition (NSPE) should be a “red flag” to other municipalities about potential provincial meddling in municipal business, Colchester County Mayor Bob Taylor says.
Keith Colwell, left, and Bob Taylor
“I know when I went home last night it was a tough time,” Taylor said, during Thursday night’s council session, regarding a Wednesday night meeting between the NSPE commission board and Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell.
“The way this was handled, I was certainly disappointed.”
The minister informed the commission members they no longer have any decision-making powers and that he is replacing the NSPE board with a smaller interim board of his own making.
The province has called in an NSPE loan held by the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, has taken over ownership of the facility and is preparing to conduct a forensic financial audit of its affairs.
Taylor said he was planning to attend a Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities meeting on Friday during which he would be warning fellow municipalities about what he considers to be provincial meddling.
“I am going to have that on the agenda. In my opinion, this was a municipal affair that was interfered with,” he said. “And I am going to tell the UNSM that this is a red flag, maybe … if this government is going to start this kind of stuff, interfering with municipal business.”
Coun. Christine Blair, however, warned against getting into a dispute with the province, especially since the majority Liberal government is only four months into its term and there will be other issues that the municipality will want to discuss with the province.
But Deputy Mayor Bill Masters also expressed concern about the way the situation was handled, given that council previously had a formal agreement in place with the NSPE commission to take over ownership of the facility in exchange for paying off the $422,000 debt to the Farm Loan Board.
“Well, I hope that they work a lot differently than they did on this one, because this was clearly a municipal issue,” he said. “I know we went into this for the right reasons.”
Taylor also questioned the need for the province to conduct the type of extensive financial audit it is planning.
Had the county been successful in its bid to acquire the deed to the NSPE property, council’s plan was to commission an audit for the years of 2012 and 2013, because the NSPE had provided audited financial statements up to the end of 2011.
“This is not what I’m hearing the minister say,” the mayor told council. “It looks like (he is) kind of on a witch hunt,” he said of Colwell’s intent to trace the financial history back further to try to find out just how the NSPE’s balance sheet went off the rails.