The NDP is calling for more answers and an expanded investigation after MBC Radio revealed that Minister of Finance Donna Harpauer received free accommodations during two recreational trips to Northern Saskatchewan, paid for by the Northern Village of Pinehouse, and failed to disclose these gifts. The Minister responded yesterday that she had thought it was a “personal friend” who paid for the trips, and committed to reimbursing the village.
This apparent misunderstanding leaves several questions unanswered, including:
- Who was this friend that Harpauer thought was paying for her trips?
- Was this person an elected member of the Village council?
- And with the Village of Pinehouse now under investigation for its longstanding “reluctance” to comply with Freedom of Information requests, will the government expand its investigation to look at financial irregularities, not limited to the practice of paying for MLA fishing trips?
The Sask. Party has disclosed $3,200 in donations directly from the Northern Village of Pinehouse since 2015. Despite having a long criminal history that would have been known to the Sask. Party when they vetted him to be a candidate in the 2016 election, the Sask. Party Cabinet appointed Pinehouse Alderman Vince Natomagan to sit on the Board of Directors of Northlands College. Advanced Education Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor said she didn’t know who recommended Natomagan to sit on the board, and Premier Scott Moe refused to say whether any member of Cabinet was aware of Natomagan’s history.
“This is a disturbing trend that we’re seeing from Sask. Party ministers,” NDP Ethics and Democracy Critic David Forbes said. “The history that the Sask. Party has with the council at Pinehouse makes it hard to believe their expressions of surprise.”
Forbes pointed out that the Sask. Party has shown a pattern of limiting the scope of investigations into irregularities and then refusing to make public those investigations. This is case here, with Government Relations Minister Warren Kaeding saying they only need to be investigating the Privacy and Information Commissioner’s concerns around the lack of response to financial-related Freedom of Information requests from the Village of Pinehouse, and not looking into the allegations of financial irregularities at the heart of those FOI requests. Earlier this fall we saw the same behavior with the government’s handling of vendor-sponsored travel by eHealth employees.
“We need to see more accountability and curiosity when these scandals arise,” Forbes said. “Looking at a small portion of the issue and saying everything is fine erodes the trust of Saskatchewan people. It’s my hope that in this case, Minister Harpauer actually answers the remaining questions around who paid for this trip and shares the findings of the Saskatchewan Conflict of Interest Commissioner.”