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Contentious spending meeting leads to cuts in speaker’s office

The province is gutting the speaker’s office as it further tries to reform itself after the expense scandal.

The province is gutting the speaker’s office as it further tries to reform itself after the expense scandal.

It’s the outcome of a contentious first-ever meeting of the Assembly Management Commission, the MLA body that replaces the old, secretive system of setting political salaries and perks.

The six-person speaker’s office had been responsible for approving claims. Now most of its duties, and all but two of the staff, will be transferred to other government departments.

The most vocal opposition to this came from an unexpected source — chief clerk Rod MacArthur. He argued the commission should be beefing up the speaker’s office, not disbanding it.

“This was never the focus of the auditor general’s words of wisdom and should not be made such by this commission,” he said.

“Don’t try to make an issue out of something where there isn’t a real issue and at the same time forever damage the independence of the house.”

But the NDP majority adopted the changes based on the recommendation of Finance Department controller Byron Rafuse. He argued the old system existed due to tradition, not design.

“If you sat back and thought about it you probably wouldn’t design an administrative system that way, in keeping with modern kinds of best practices around separation of duties and the ability to have appropriate backup coverages,” said Rafuse.

Tory MLA and former speaker Murray Scott objected, saying it would place blame on employees who were just enforcing the admittedly lax rules.

“What we’ve seen here today is dismantling the speaker’s office so the perception is now the blame has been transferred to the staff, which is absolutely wrong,” said Scott.

“These people do a great job over there.

“They followed the rules that we as MLAs, myself included, gave them to follow.”

The provincial government is also pumping another $103,000 into hiring two new speaker’s office staff to act out recent reforms such as posting expenses online.

 
 
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