Premier Dennis King has called in Auditor General Jane MacAdam to review the millions of dollars the P.E.I. government is handing out in COVID-19 relief.
MacAdam says she will begin her special audit immediately. She plans to report back to the P.E.I. legislature no later than August 2021.
King says it’s important that Islanders have confidence the government is spending their money appropriately. He also wants to ensure the programs being rolled out meet their intended targets.
“We are doing things each day that we’ve never done before,” said King.
“We are implementing government policy and spending assistance at a rate or pace that was not normally done in the past and we really just wanted to make sure those oversights were in place.”
The P.E.I. government has already announced more than $40-million in COVID-19 relief — about $32-million of that has been allocated to specific programs. That doesn’t include the $50-million loan assistance program the province has announced for the Island’s tourism sector.
MacAdam said she received the letter requesting the special assignment on Friday. She said she will now develop an audit plan that will include a review of all the COVID-19 programs, their criteria and the rules that have been put in place around these programs.
“It’s too early to say exactly what that work would encompass but certainly it would be a financial examination into the supports and payments under those various programs,” MacAdam said in an interview with CBC News.
Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker said while he welcomes the auditor general’s oversight, he believes more is needed, especially given the auditor general will not report back until next summer.
Bevan-Baker said the legislature could meet with a reduced number of MLAs — it would need at least 10 of the current 27 MLAs to sit to pass legislation — or it could meet virtually, or the legislative standing committees could meet.
“When government is given exceptional powers to spend beyond what is considered a normal budget then a greater degree of oversight and accountability and transparency is required and that certainly has not been applied to this point,” he said, adding he is generally pleased with the programs and how they have been rolled out to date.
King said he realizes the legislature needs to be recalled “sooner rather than later” and that the Opposition has a critical role to play.
But he said his focus now is helping Islanders through the pandemic.
The province will provide a further financial update later this week.
“I have some hang-ups, and I know some of my other colleagues do as well, in terms of having only a limited number of people sit for a legislative session,” said King.
“One of the fundamental rights of an elected official is to take a seat in the legislature and I think it would be really, really difficult to tell somebody they can’t sit in the legislature.”
Oversight needed, says King
King admits it is “a very inexact science” trying to implement programs at the speed which is required to meet the needs of Islanders during this global pandemic.
“I do feel very confident that what we’re doing is being very well received by Islanders and we’re doing it the right way,” said King.
“But it’s obviously not perfect and perfection isn’t the bar that we are trying to reach here. That’s why it’s important to have these oversight measures in place.”
COVID-19: What you need to know
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Common symptoms include:
But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.
Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.
What should I do if I feel sick?
Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.
How can I protect myself?
Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
Practise physical distancing.
More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government’s website.