POLITICS

NDP calls for Saskatchewan finance minister's resignation after auditor report

12/10/2013 12:47 EST | Updated 02/09/2014 05:59 EST
REGINA - The Opposition in Saskatchewan is calling for the finance minister to resign after an auditor's report that scolded the government for accounting errors.

NDP Leader Cam Broten says if the books can't be trusted, neither can Finance Minister Ken Krawetz.

"It's shocking to have the provincial auditor warn taxpayers that this government's books can't be trusted," Broten said in a news release Tuesday.

Acting auditor Judy Ferguson said in a report tabled in the legislature last week that there are "pervasive" accounting errors in the government's general revenue fund financial statements. There are so many errors that it's too hard for the general person to figure out what's right, she said.

The auditor issued what is called an adverse audit opinion on the general revenue fund statements. She said it's the first time that's been done in Saskatchewan.

The government isn't following accounting principles generally accepted in Canada, Ferguson said. If it had, she said, the general revenue fund would show an annual deficit of $590 million instead of the government's reported $58-million surplus.

Ferguson also said the government hasn't included pension-related debt or long-term debt funding for things such as schools. She said the government has also, inappropriately, counted transfers from its rainy-day fund as revenue and recorded funding for capital projects as assets instead of expenses.

Krawetz was not available for comment Tuesday, but said last week that the government does not believe it is giving people inaccurate information.

The NDP says only a handful of adverse opinions have ever been given to specific ministries in other provinces and never to a government's central bank account.

"This government is stubbornly refusing to be transparent and accountable to Saskatchewan people. A new finance minister to clean up the mess would be a first step toward clean books," said Broten.

The province has been repeatedly criticized by the auditor for using two sets of financial books: one for the general revenue fund and another summary statement, which several provincial auditors have said more accurately covers all areas of government.

The auditor gave the summary statements a clean bill of health.

A government spokeswoman pointed out in an email to The Canadian Press that the NDP used the same accounting method when it was in government.

"If this was a measure for any finance minister, no NDP finance minister in 16 years would have survived," wrote Kathy Young with executive council. "The NDP didn't even bring in summary financial statements until 2004, so they only reported the general revenue fund for most of their time in government.

"This is the same argument with the auditor going into the third decade under various governments."