Premier Stephen McNeil continues to refuse calls to release details about how $228 million in unbudgeted COVID-19 stimulus money is being spent. The funding is being used for a variety of infrastructure projects across the province, in part to drive employment during the pandemic.
After government officials initially pledged to make the list available, a spokesperson for the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department said last month that it wouldn’t happen after all. At the time, McNeil told reporters that all the information about the more than 200 projects was available by cross referencing capital plan documents with the government tender website.
The premier suggested the government isn’t a research department for reporters and that they do the work themselves.
Several reporters at AllNovaScotia.com recently tried to do that work, but fell well short of being able to assemble a complete list using the method suggested by the premier. When that was pointed out to him Thursday, McNeil stuck to his guns about the availability of the information.
‘It should be available to taxpayers’
“I don’t know how much more transparent I can be, other than unless you want me to go down and identify every program that the money has come out of,” he said Thursday following a cabinet meeting.
“I don’t think Nova Scotians think that’s the best use of the premier’s time.”
Part of the challenge assembling the information is that some stimulus work wasn’t actually tendered, but rather tacked on to projects that had previously been approved, something Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines confirmed last month.
A few of the projects have yet to be announced, said McNeil, and so would not have been posted yet. AllNovaScotia’s reporting showed that the projects they could locate did not appear to be disproportionately awarded to Liberal-held districts.
Tory Leader Tim Houston said the public has a right to know how the government is spending its money.
Houston said he was initially willing to give the premier the benefit of the doubt, but now that reporters have demonstrated just how difficult it is to account for the money, the premier should just call for a list to be produced.
“There’s no reason to hide it,” Houston told reporters. “It should be available to taxpayers.”
‘Deliberately and willfully obtuse’
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the premier is being “deliberately and willfully obtuse in obscuring a very simple request” in a way that is consistent with his government’s general approach to transparency.
“I can’t imagine why, but it’s quite plain that the obtuseness and the obscurity is deliberate on their part,” Burrill told reporters.
“The question is as straightforward as it could possibly be.”
McNeil told reporters that asking for the details to be provided was a case of “people looking for something to complain about.”
“I don’t know what more you want,” he said.
“You’re like every other Nova Scotian. [The projects] are on the website. Go look at them.”
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