© Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Finance Minister Wes Sheridan delivers his 2014 budget in Guardian file photo.
Finance critic James Aylward is accusing Finance Minister Wes Sheridan of deliberately delaying the release of the province’s audited financial statements in an effort to hide information from Islanders.
Every year, the province releases a public accounts document that details exactly how much money government spent the previous year. It is audited by the province’s auditor general.
But Sheridan did not release the 2012-13 Public Accounts, often called the blue books for its blue coloured cover, until February 2014 – nine months after the fiscal year ended.
The previous year’s public accounts were also delivered eight months later.
During question period in the legislature Wednesday, Aylward pointed to a recent report by the C.D. Howe Institute that was critical of Prince Edward Island for this tardiness.
“The fiscal year ends on March 31, and there is little reason why financial results should not be audited and published by June 30 – the end of the next quarter,” says the report, entitled ‘Credibility on the Bottom Line: The Fiscal Accountability of Canada’s Senior Governments, 2013.’
P.E.I.’s auditor general has raised the same concerns in her annual report for the last two years.
“In order for information to be useful for accountability and decision making purposes, it is important for members of the legislative assembly and the public to have it before it loses its capacity to influence their decisions,” Auditor General Jane MacAdam wrote in her 2014 annual report.
“Treasurer, will you listen to your MLAs, to the AG, and support amendments to have blue books released in a more timely fashion?” Aylward asked Sheridan Wednesday.
Sheridan acknowledged the blue books were late this year and last, and that this wassomething Premier Robert Ghiz was critical of the previous Tory administration about back when he was in opposition.
“Treasurer, will you listen to your MLAs, to the AG, and support amendments to have blue books released in a more timely fashion?” James Alyward, Conservative finance critic
He explained last year’s books were late due to a major overhaul of the province’s public sector pension plans. The year before that, accounting rules changed across the country, which meant a major re-evaluation of all financial figures for that year.
Sheridan agreed the public accounts should be released sooner, and is striving to make that happen this year. But getting the numbers right trumps timing for the P.E.I. finance minister.
“It’s just most important that we are very, very accurate with what our statements are,” Sheridan told reporters.
“I am very much in favour of getting them out earlier, the earlier the better, it gives everyone that ability to make good decisions. But the most important part is to get the financial statements and get them in the place that they need to be.”
Aylward called Sheridan’s reporting record with its nine-month delay ‘dismal at best,’ and stressed the importance of getting them to the public sooner.
“If we had the blue books in a timely fashion, we would have a better idea of what was happening here financially on the Island,” Aylward said.
“By withholding this information, by dragging their feet and not getting the information to the auditor general… too much water is passed under the bridge and it’s hard to take reaction to issues that might need to be addressed.”