For the third consecutive day in the New Brunswick legislature, the Opposition called for answers about the Atcon scandal, while Premier Brian Gallant’s Liberals deflected them.
Meanwhile, Green Party Leader David Coon went a step further, calling for a judicial review into whether the former Liberal government broke the rules by giving up its first right to money owed by the Atcon group of companies.
The debate follows a report released by New Brunswick’s auditor general earlier this week, which said loan guarantees given in 2009 by Shawn Graham’s Liberal government to the Miramichi firm cost taxpayers $70 million.
Auditor General Kim MacPherson’s report said she believes rules were broken when Graham’s cabinet gave Scotiabank the first right to money covered by loan guarantees from the government to Atcon.
Health Minister Victor Boudreau was the Economic Development Minister in that cabinet, and Coon said he wants an investigations into his actions.
“Did he exceed his authority? The Auditor General believes so, based on legal advice,” Coon said.
“We need those answers, so there should be a legal investigation in terms of whether the minister of the day exceeded his authority,” he said.
Ministerial approval was needed for the province to forgo security over its loans in favour of commercial banks, and Boudreau was that minister in 2009.
Opposition Tories say they think it’s unlikely an investigation or forensic audit will ever happen.
“Unfortunately, the premier wants to sweep this under the rug as quickly as possible so it doesn’t taint his cabinet, because 50 percent of his cabinet is made up of that Atcon Six,” said interim PC Leader Bruce Fitch.
Premier Brian Gallant has rejected calls to remove Boudreau or any other Graham-era minister from his cabinet.
He has said the issue has been discussed for years and that the auditor general’s report contained no new information.
Though Gallant didn’t take questions from the media on Thursday, Finance Minister Roger Melanson, re-wording a now familiar refrain.
“The recommendations by the auditor general is being looked at and we certainly want to improve everything that we can. We are taking this very, very seriously,” Melanson said.
Melanson said the CEO of Opportunities New Brunswick is meeting with the auditor general to see how her recommendations can be implemented.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Atlantic’s Andy Campbell