FRAM DINSHAW | STAFF REPORTER
The Chronicle Herald
Published October 12, 2016 - 7:52am
With files from The Canadian Press.
Opposition politicians in Nova Scotia who have been pointing to rising taxes and shrinking services have fresh fodder after the report of Nova Scotia Auditor General Michael Pickup.
The amount of taxes collected from Nova Scotians has increased by about $850 per capita over the past five years — a jump of about 17 per cent since 2012, the provincial auditor general said Wednesday.
However, this five-year trend shows that both long-term and net debt have increased. As of March 31, the long-term debt per Nova Scotian was $14,307 and individual net debt was $15,971.
“While this year’s provincial deficit is the lowest since 2011, the amount of long-term debt for each person and taxes collected from Nova Scotians have both increased by about $900 per person over the past five years,” said Pickup in a news release.
Tory finance critic Tim Houston was not impressed by what he saw, saying that debts and taxes were rising while people’s wages remained flat.
“It confirms what most Nova Scotians are feeling — we’re paying more and more taxes for less and less in services,” said Houston.
The financial statements show that more than half of government expenses come from the departments of Health and Wellness and Education and Early Childhood Development, where spending has increased more than 20 per cent since 2012.
Pickup noted that as the population ages, the amount being spent by the province on each person is also going up. The report says expenses per capita are about $4,755 per person during the current year, an increase of about $500 since 2012.
The report says more than half of government expenses come from the departments of Health and Education, where spending increased by more than 20 per cent over the five-year period.
Provincial Finance Act provisions mean government departments never overspend approved budgets and federal government revenue has remained constant over the last five years, according to the report.
“This is the 16th year that the government has received a clean audit opinion which means that Nova Scotians can feel comfortable about the quality of numbers and information in the government’s financial statements,” said Pickup.
However, the report also found Tourism Nova Scotia failed to meet its June 30 financial statement reporting deadline in accordance with the province’s Finance Act during its first year of operations.
And, while the Nova Scotia Health Authority met its audit deadline and received a clean audit for its first year of operations, Pickup’s report noted several areas needing improvement around healthcare.
This included ensuring that restricted funds are not borrowed to cover operational costs. The report noted that $7 million was used in this manner, despite the Department of Health and Wellness owing the health authority more than $70 million.
And Houston was quick to weigh in.
“It’s pretty shocking,” said Houston.
The report also called on the NSHA to “review the overall control environment and determine the best control to address deficiencies relating to journal entry postings, changes to human resource information and the use of modifiable electronic files.”
Overall, Pickup noted improvements made to the management and disclosure of travel and hospitality expenses such as the implementation of a hospitality policy and the requirement of departments to disclose travel and hospitality expenses in government departments.
However, his report warned that there is still a lack of disclosure of such expenses at agencies, boards and commissions. There is also a lack of hospitality policy monitoring by the Department of Internal Services.
The province’s public accounts also show that the departments of Internal Services and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal went over their original budget and requested additional funds of more than $49 million to cover items such as the remediation of Boat Harbour and payments for the N.S. to Portland ferry service.