20 June 2009

Today in history…

On this date in 2006, then natural resources minister Ed Byrne left the annual NOIA conference and went off to discuss with Premier Danny Williams the auditor general’s review of the House of Assembly accounts and specifically some problems discovered in the records for Byrne.

It was a Tuesday.

The next day – over 24 hours after that chat with Byrne – Williams told the rest of the province about what became the House of Assembly spending scandal.

ed and danny How much had changed from a little over five years before when Williams took the reins of the Tory party from Byrne at a convention in St. John’s (left).

Byrne remained a major force within the party up to his resignation on June 21.

To mark the third anniversary of the scandal, Bond Papers has collected together links to the posts on the spending scandal.  You’ll find them if you scroll down the right hand column.  There are a lot since the scandal is huge and continues to reverberate to this day.  The are so many, we’ve had to break them down by year.  The first couple of months worth are ready as this post goes live.  The rest will follow in short order.  Unlike the last link list on the scandal, this one will be a permanent sidebar feature.  Interest in the issue hasn’t abated.

The are arranged chronologically beginning with the first one, posted the evening the Premier told the rest of us some of what he already knew.

The story has gone through a number of twists and turns as more information came to light.  Still, three years later, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador do not have a complete tally of how much cash went out the door nor do they have any idea where most of it went.

Along the way there have been some moments of personal satisfaction for your humble e-scribbler. 

In a post in August 2006 – two months into the scandal -  Bond Papers pointed out how much of that the Auditor General missed in his reports.  Chief Justice Derek Green confirmed it in his report in mid 2007. The Auditor general has never corrected his figures or explained his glaring oversights.

While the Green report turned out to be a significant turning point in the whole affair, the response was less edifying.  As Bond Papers reported first in “One last trip to the trough?” the members of the legislature adopted the Green bill quickly but made sure they didn’t have to live with the chief justice’s spending rules until after the fall election. 

Then- government House leader Tom Rideout proved a source of great entertainment as he tried to explain how in June the legislature had decided to implement the legislation “tomorrow” but in the language of parliament “tomorrow” was not the next day but a day five months later.  Only a title lifted from Get Smart – “Chaos in Control” -  could cover such a piece of hilarity.

Then there was a moment of unease.  In reviewing the posts, you will find one written early on about the use of public money for partisan purposes.  At that point it was only a suspicion. The suspicion was confirmed when Ed Byrne pleaded guilty to the charges levelled against him.

Only five individuals were charged in the scandal.  One pleaded guilty.  Another case is currently before the courts and three more are due to start over the summer and into the fall.

Since the scandal broke in the Bow Wow parliament, other similar stories have emerged elsewhere.  In Britain, the scandal of account mismanagement in the House of Commons has ended political careers sparked numerous investigations and may ultimately topple the Labour government.  The public has received details of the spending and reacted with appropriate anger.

Yet, three years later, and despite a series of investigations, there has not been a full public accounting of the money or where it all went.

There may never be.