[LINKLETTER, PE] – After a former Liberal MP called P.E.I.'s public accounts committee "hypocritical" for not allowing senior government bureaucrats to appear before it, the deputy minister of Education may have changed some minds Thursday.
Last week, Shawn Murphy made nine recommendations on how the committee should change, stressing in particular that deputy ministers should appear to answer for audited departments.
At Thursday's committee meeting at the Linkletter Community Centre, Education Minister Alan McIsaac brought along his deputy, Dr. Sandy MacDonald, to discuss the auditor general's report on special education.
Over the past two decades, only ministers have been allowed to appear before the committee, but it was left to McIsaac's discretion to invite MacDonald to this week's meeting.
"I checked with (MacDonald) to see if he was open for today; it turned out Thursday we were in here anyway. We had a couple of events going on in Summerside, so it worked out perfectly," said McIsaac, adding he wouldn't hesitate to bring McDonald back again on issues within the AG's report.
Opposition Leader Olive Crane has been asking the public accounts committee for some time to allow deputy ministers to appear but has had her requests repeatedly denied.
Last week, the committee passed Crane's motion to ask the rules and privileges committee to dictate that deputies and agency heads should always appear with the AG if their department has been audited. Tyne Valley-Linkletter Liberal MLA Paula Biggar, however, amended that motion to remove wording indicating the public accounts committee was in favour of the idea.
The committee was scheduled to discuss Murphy's recommendations again on Thursday, but Biggar moved to hold those talks in-camera, meaning the discussions will not be made public.
The in-camera meeting will take place in Charlottetown next Tuesday morning.
"With committees sometimes having in-camera (sessions), you have more chance to have a frank discussion and come to a consensus that maybe wouldn't come if it was held in public," said Biggar. "I think (the public) will find out by the way the committee progresses in how they conduct their meetings."
For her part, Crane was pleased to see MacDonald appear this week, saying he was able to provide information on special education that the committee may not have heard from McIsaac alone. She added that many of the Liberal members of the panel appeared to be more engaged with the discussion.
"What appears to have changed, in this case, was public accounts had invited the minister and allowed him to choose," she said. "Because Dr. MacDonald is an expert, which most deputy ministers are, (McIsaac) felt comfortable in bringing him. The bottom line is, it should be automatic."
Biggar also found the session to be productive and hinted that it may be time for changes to the committee's policy.
"It's a new committee this term, we have a new chair, so things can certainly make some progress."