It's not often that a bureaucrat comes out with such a harsh rebuke as when Auditor General John Doyle came out with his report last week calling provincial finances a mess and provincial bookkeeping "woefully inadequate".
In fact, before his department could even figure out how much of a mess, the staff had to do a bunch of fix-up work. They had to
correct or properly record about $1.3 billion in transactions over many years.
"We had to restrict ourselves eventually to just correcting the errors rather than delving even deeper into the financial transactions, and that's what I propose to do at some time in the future, is to actually dive deeper into the transactions to make sure that they're all appropriate," Doyle said.
He added that in 13 of the last 17 years, British Columbia's auditors general have had concerns about the financial statements and have issued qualified audit opinions, reflecting a long-standing trend of shortcomings in the transparency of government's finances.
The Legislative Assembly was paying for MLA credit card expenses without proper paperwork and the province wasn't doing proper annual reports, a standard accounting practice.
The government's response: House Speaker MLA Bill Barisoff said it's a difference in accounting styles.
The provincial government has signed up for the political equivalent of remedial math class.
And we are not surprised. Rather tragic, that we have such low expectations of our politicians.
Worse yet that they rely on that apathy and disdain to remain in office. It's unfortunate that we electorate do have such short memories.
Of course once in a while, we get up off our knees long enough to smack a government (think HST referendum).
Doyle has promised more fun reading in August. He's putting out a report on the implications of not having proper accounting and other errors in government accounting.
Yes, it really does matter how the math is done. Politicians have a vested interest in making things seem more rosy than red, but Doyle pointed out just what it can mean.
"If the summary financial statements were prepared fully in accordance with GAAP [Generally Accepted Accounting Principles], the recorded deficit for the year would have been $520 million higher at $2,360 million," said Doyle in last week's report.
I figure my government (at various levels) wastes enough of my money that I can't afford to, so to hear that the math was out by $520 million is enough to cream my corn.
I'm not sure what it is about having charge of someone else's money that makes people reckless or instills this odd sense of entitlement (a sense that extends to not feeling it necessary to do proper paperwork/accounting).
I have the solution for the province. Let's sign up our politicians for TV's Til Debt Do Us Part or maybe have that reality TV show bunch that made the show in Aldergrove make a new version called Billion Dollar Neighbourhood, since the boys and girls in Victoria are in a much bigger sandbox than you or I will ever get to play in.
For the show financial experts can go over, penny for penny, the spending of the provincial government.
Oh wait, we already have that, it's done by the auditor general. Maybe if he had his own reality TV show, politicians might listen. But I wouldn't bet on it.