$304M deficit downplayed, provincial auditor says

The provincial auditor is criticizing the way the government tells the public about the state of its finances.

The provincial auditor is criticizing the way the government tells the public about the state of its finances.

In her latest report released Thursday, auditor Bonnie Lysyk said the government has been recently talking about a $25-million surplus when it should be focusing on a $304-million deficit.

"Simply put, the way that Saskatchewan publicly reports its annual surpluses and deficits to the citizens of Saskatchewan is out of sync with the rest of Canada," Lysyk said in a news release.

The government reported a $25 million "pre-transfer" surplus in its 2011-12 mid-year financial report.

But Lysyk points out that's based on the "general revenue fund", which covers government departments, but not Crown corporations.

Lysyk noted that general revenue fund finances look rosier when money comes in from the province's so-called rainy day fund — although it's essentially a case of the government taking money from one pocket and putting it into another.

A more useful measure of government finances would the "summary financial statements" — used by the federal government and other provinces — which look at the entire operations of government, she said.

The $304 million deficit corresponds to the summary accounts.

Lysyk, like several other auditors before her, wants the government to put the summary statements at the centre of its financial reporting.

She noted that the government told the public in the 2011-12 report about an expected decrease in the "government general public debt" of $325 million.

However, the government's total debt, including all government entities, is actually expected to increase by $189 million, she said.

In the legislature later in the day, NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon asked whether the government would adopt her recommendations.

"It's simply not acceptable for a government to set its own accounting policies," Wotherspoon said.

Speaking for the government, Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris said the government does provide the summary financial statements and he rejected the notion that it's trying to fiddle with the books.

It's not a "manufactured outcome" that Saskatchewan is doing well, has high GDP growth and a triple-A credit rating, Norris said.