PC MLA wants assurances about Internet funding trust

HALIFAX: The Minister of Business is assuring Nova Scotians a trust used to fund high-speed Internet upgrades will be audited.

During Question Period in the Nova Scotia Legislature on October 3, Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon asked whether the Nova Scotia Internet Funding Trust will be accountable to taxpayers.

Paon noted that Auditor General Michael Pickup recently highlighted the $238 million allocated to the trust over the past two fiscal years for rural Internet development. Because Pickup pointed out that trusts are not reported in provincial financial statements, Paon asked if this trust will publicly report any administrative or compensation expenses.

“Surely, any reasonable government would want to make sure all those trust dollars are accountable to taxpayers,” Paon told the house.

Business minister Geoff MacLellan said the province intends to abide by all recommendations and suggestions of the Auditor General.

“I think that with the Internet trust, the purpose of that structure is exactly for that reason,” MacLellan explained. “I do have a meeting upcoming with the Auditor General, and I’ll be happy to bring that forward. We’re going to fully disclose every single dollar that’s spent under the Internet trust.’

In her supplemental question, the Progressive Conservative MLA acknowledged that Nova Scotians deserve reliable high-speed Internet but the process needs to be transparent.

She asked MacLellan if the government would agree to have the Auditor General conduct regular performance and financial audits of the Nova Scotia Internet Funding Trust.

“The process this government has decided upon, an expanded Crown corporation to administer money from an off-book trust through private sector partners, is an awful lot of layers, and it’s an awful lot of money that any reasonable government would want to expose to some sunlight,” Paon stated.

Responding that the province is about to take the “unprecedented” step of providing $193 million for broadband, MacLellan told the house the province will conduct audits of the trust.

“We want to establish and provide all the sunlight that we can on these expenditures to make sure that not only are we getting it right, but also that we’re maximizing every dollar when we’re providing Internet service to all Nova Scotians,” the business minister added.