First quarter financial report was withheld, Higgs says
Financial update was ready around time premier expanded cabinet
Finance Minister Blaine Higgs says a report that showed the province's financial situation was deteriorating around the same time Premier David Alward announced an expanded cabinet was available for publication, but never released.
"We held it," Higgs told CBC News.
The report, a first quarter update on the province's financial situation, compiled in late September or early October, showed the deficit was already $51 million over budget, Higgs said.
But the province's finances were deteriorating so rapidly, he said, he didn't see the point in disclosing the report.
"I had it about a month ago or so and looked at it and we were ready to release it," Higgs said.
"But the economic condition looked to be weakening. It looked like I'd be putting out a report one month, or let's say three weeks of the next one, and there would be dramatically different shifts in the outlook."
Last week, Higgs released a second quarter financial update that showed the province's projected deficit is now $173.7 million over budget at $356.7 million.
Premier suggested figures unavailable
The finance minister's acknowledgment that a first quarter financial report was prepared by his department but not released appears to contradict statements by the premier. Alward had said the provincial government couldn't get the necessary financial information together to produce first quarter numbers.
"Historically, governments have not had access to information this early," Alward said on Oct. 19, in response to a direct question asking where the first quarter financial statements were.
Alward said the provincial government was skipping ahead to a second quarter report instead.
He also told reporters he was unsure if the deficit was on target or not.
"I can't today say specifically where it is," the premier said.
Expanded cabinet broke campaign promise
The Progressive Conservatives promised regular financial updates as part of their 2010 election platform and Higgs told reporters in August that a first quarter financial report was being worked on and would be made public in September.
However, that would have delivered bad financial news just as Alward announced a larger cabinet on Sept. 26.
The expansion of cabinet to 17 members, who were sworn in on Oct. 9, broke a campaign promise to limit the number to 15, in part to fight the deficit.
Higgs now says he held onto the first quarter numbers throughout that period and eventually they became too stale to release.
"We held it and then it got closer [to the second quarter report] and I can't put out one, one week that says this, knowing that the one next week is going to be significantly different," he said.