Despite what people may have heard, Saskatchewan has failed to present balanced budgets nine times out of the last 10, Provincial Auditor Bonnie Lysyk says.
That's what would show if Canada's standard accounting rules, called generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, were used, according to a special report released Tuesday.
Lysyk said Saskatchewan's financial budgeting and reporting practices are inconsistent with the rest of Canada and cause public confusion because the province has two sets of books — the General Revenue Fund budget and the Summary budget.
When the government talks about its record of balanced budgets, it's usually taking about the General Revenue Fund.
The problem, Lysyk says, is the GRF budget represents only a portion of the government’s financial activities.
The government is able to present a balanced GRF budget year after year "by strategically altering the amount and timing" of the money it plans to transfer between Crown corporations, other agencies, and the "rainy day fund", she said.
However, the other way of looking at the books — the Summary accounts, which includes all government spending — makes more sense, she said.
According to Saskatchewan's Summary accounts, spending was in the red in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but under Saskatchewan's GRF system, the budget was balanced for all three.
Meanwhile, even with GRF, if Saskatchewan had been using proper accounting principles, GAAP, it would have reported budget deficits for nine years out the past 10, with 2009-10 being the only year when it was in the black, the report says.
Not only is the public confused, she said, but experts are too, and people make mistakes when they try to compare our budget to those in other provinces.
"We think it should be apples to apples, we think one budget should be the provincial budget and one set of audited financial statements should be there," she said. "And then there's no confusion."
However, the government says it thinks Saskatchewan people "like" two sets of books.
Saskatchewan Finance Minister Ken Krawetz said he does not intend to change his bookkeeping system.
"We're going to continue to produce both sets of statements," he said. "We believe that the people of the province appreciate that. We are going to stress summaries to a greater degree, I think, is what we're looking at."
Lysyk says summary accounts are in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and are what every other province in Canada goes by.