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Expenses for Nova Scotia's senior bureaucrats should be made public: auditor

HALIFAX – Hospitality and travel expenses of senior Nova Scotia government bureaucrats should be publicly disclosed, says the province’s auditor general.

In a report released Wednesday, Michael Pickup Pickup said the expenses of officials with boards and agencies should also be publicly reported.

He said the current policy does not address things such as the hosting of delegations or other visitors to the province and needs to be updated.

“Clarifying for example when at all, alcohol may be covered,” he said. “What’s a reasonable amount to spend per person at an event and who should authorize?”

Progressive Conservative finance critic Tim Houston said taxpayers have a right to know the information.

“The very least we can do is tell them how much is being spent and where it’s being spent,” said Houston.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the auditor general’s recommendation would be considered, given expenses are already listed online for members of the legislature and for cabinet ministers.

Pickup’s report also says Nova Scotia’s net debt continues to hamper the government’s ability to pay for programs in a province with a declining population.

Pickup – who talked about the debt burden in his previous report – sounded the alarm again, saying the $15.1 billion net debt is increasing faster than the province’s population.

He said the five-year trend is unfavourable when it comes to key indicators such as net debt per capita, net debt as a percentage of total revenue and net debt as a percentage of provincial Gross Domestic Product.

Pickup said the government’s debt increased by two per cent in 2014-15 and now stands at $15,944 for every resident of the province.

The report says net debt had increased by $2.3 billion or 18 per cent over four years because spending exceeded revenues.

Pickup said those are numbers that come with consequences.

“The debt servicing cost, at nearly $1 billion a year, is prohibiting a government in what it may do in terms of programs, in terms of taxes,” he said.