POLITICS

Press secretary for Premier Darrell Dexter sent notes to Nova Scotia Power

11/22/2012 02:00 EST | Updated 01/22/2013 05:12 EST
HALIFAX - The press secretary for Nova Scotia's premier sent a summary of a scrum Darrell Dexter had with reporters and a cabinet minister's speaking notes to Nova Scotia Power in what amounts to a misuse of public resources, the Opposition Liberals said Thursday.

The party obtained emails that Jennifer Stewart sent to the private utility company earlier this year through access-to-information legislation. Two of the emails summarize Dexter's responses to reporters who questioned him on the salaries of Nova Scotia Power executives during scrums at the provincial legislature on May 10 and 11.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said while the correspondence doesn't break any rules, it was an inappropriate use of taxpayers' resources.

"You'll have to ask Nova Scotians whether they think it's appropriate for the premier's office to be standing here being the ears and eyes for Nova Scotia Power at the legislature," McNeil said.

"Nova Scotia Power makes a lot of money and I think they could afford to send somebody down here."

But Dexter said it's not uncommon for his office to provide information to companies when they request it "just to make sure that they understand what we are saying and what the other parties are saying."

"It's a perfectly normal part of everyday business," he said.

The May 10 email contains notes from Dexter's exchange with reporters that day, during which he shied away from criticizing big increases to the salaries of top Nova Scotia Power executives last year.

But an email Stewart sent to Nova Scotia Power the next day shows Dexter taking a different tack, expressing "frustration" with the pay hikes.

McNeil was particularly critical of an email Stewart sent on March 15 containing the speaking notes for a speech to be delivered by Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau on a coal-fired regulations agreement with Ottawa. Nova Scotia Power president Rob Bennett was also scheduled to speak during that announcement.

The contents of Belliveau's speech were redacted, however, prompting McNeil to suggest Stewart sent the speaking notes so they could be reviewed by Nova Scotia Power.

"It leads us to wonder what did Nova Scotia Power change," said McNeil.

Stewart later sent an email to The Canadian Press saying, "We regularly share materials with others involved in an announcement to cut back on duplication and to ensure accuracy of what's being said."

The premier's office also released both a draft and final copy of the speech dated March 19. In the final copy, a paragraph to the text is added that says the province would not face undue economic hardship for taking early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Dexter said he didn't know why the contents of the speech would be redacted from the email obtained by the Liberals.

"The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy people are designed to be separate from my office ... and to exercise their own discretion on that," he said.