The province is putting a halt to “March madness” spending by civil servants, says Finance Minister Graham Steele.

A letter to senior bureaucrats dated March 4 from the treasury board directs them not to make any unplanned year-end spending.

Steele said the letter was meant to defuse the idea that if departments don’t spend their entire budget it will be cut down the following year. He said he heard at almost every Back To Balance meeting with the public they believe departments go on a spending spree in March.

“We do want to make sure civil servants get the message that the kind of spending where you spend money for the sake of spending money will not be tolerated,” he said.

Steele said the treasury board is keeping close watch and if frivolous spending is discovered it will be dealt with on an individual basis.

The Liberals were unconvinced the letter would be enough.

Several tenders went out in recent days with deadlines right before the March 31 end of fiscal year. One tender for the first phase of Bluenose II restoration was posted March 18 and closes just four days later.

Many tenders end in the two days before the fiscal year ends, including contracts for portable radios and to carpet and floor office buildings.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the most egregious spending was the NDP topping up the Industrial Expansion Fund — an economic development pot controlled by cabinet — with $75 million at the beginning of this month.

“If it didn’t come out of departments, he’s borrowed the money. And that’s end of the year spending,” McNeil said.

“It’s pretty rich for Graham Steele to be telling civil servants to live within their budgets when their own government’s not doing it.”