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Legislative Report (12 October 2006)

Legislative Report

12 October 2006

NDP Hampers Public Accounts Committee

The Legislature’s Public Accounts Committee is an important –if not very well known—cog in the machinery of government. Its function is simple. Governments spend your money. The Public Accounts Committee reviews the books and the reports to make sure your money is being well spent.

So why is it that the NDP doesn’t want Community Resources Minister Buckley Belanger to appear before Public Accounts to answer questions about the Oyate Safe House in Regina?

Recently, government members of the committee voted down a Saskatchewan Party motion calling on Belanger to appear as a witness. This would be a routine request in many other legislatures across the country. Not so in Saskatchewan. NDP MLA Lon Borgerson said it was not the role of Public Accounts to evaluate the competence of ministers. I think most people would agree that how a minister spends public money and how a minister responds when allegations surface that money is not being well spent are, in fact, very important questions deserving of timely answers.

The more you find out about the Oyate Safe House, the more troubling the story becomes. As the name “safe house” implies, this was to be a place where young women exploited by the sex trade could find refuge. As originally envisioned, these vulnerable young women were also supposed to get the help and support they needed to stay off the streets and begin building their lives.

Two damning reports—one by the Provincial Auditor, the other by the Children’s Advocate—show just how bad the situation was. Children who needed services fell between the cracks. The safe house did not have the adequate staff to provide those services and failed to stop the further sexual exploitation of children in their care. Further, the board of directors was paying itself honoraria from operating funds. According to the Provincial Auditor, they were not entitled to this money.

When the story broke, Buckley Belanger told reporters he had no concerns about “glaring problems in relation to money management” at the safe house, and “we have no evidence there has been any problems”.

In his recent testimony before the Public Accounts Committee, the Deputy Minster of Community Resources said the department first became aware of problems at Oyate in the summer of 2003. That’s just months after the facility opened its doors. And he admitted that Mr. Belanger was briefed on problems Oyate. Why this contradiction?

It’s time for some straight answers on this. In addition, despite what the NDP may think, the Public Accounts Committee is the right place to start getting at the truth.

If you have a question about this report or any other matter, just Contact Glen.

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