B.C. auditor says NDP budget fudged

British Columbia's auditor-general said Tuesday that Premier Glen Clark's NDP government ran an election on fudged figures even after they knew there would be a budget deficit.

Auditor-General George Morfitt was very critical of the handling of budget forecasts by the NDP.

During the 1996 election campaign the NDP predicted a balanced budget or surplus. But just weeks after being re-elected the public learned the numbers were in the red.

Morffit says the NDP did not break the law. But he did say the forecasts were overly optimistic.

So optimistic, in fact, that an $87 million surplus on the eve of the last election somehow turned in a $350 million deficit once the NDP was re-elected.

Clark, has not admitted any wrong-doing on the part of his government although he has agreed the budget's forecasts were "optimistic."

Morfitt said future budget predictions should have full and fair disclosure in order to have integrity.

Critics say it strains credibility to suggest that it wasn't a deliberate deception.

University of Victoria professor Mike Prince says the key issue for the auditor-general is how much political interference there was in the budget process.

"Is there any evidence of undue influence of the politicians to tell the officials to turn a blind eye to some of the information that they had?" Prince said to CBC News.

The political opposition believes there are plenty of examples of wrongdoing. But Liberal Garry Farrel Collins wonders how many of them will make it into today's report.

"The NDP has been throwing lawyers at this like they would boulders in front of a train, trying to stop it," Farrel Collins told CBC News.

Still, Farrel Collins says it's one thing for British Columbians to believe the government fudged the numbers on the budget to help get re-elected; but to have someone with the stature of the auditor-general prove it would be crushing to the NDP government's credibility.