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Provincial budget not doctored: auditor

Deficit figures above board despite allegations

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Auditor general Carol Bellringer dismisses Tory suggestions the Selinger government doctored its financial books in order to hide a larger deficit.

"The correct deficit figures are all there," Bellringer told the Free Press Wednesday.

She was commenting on a note made on the 2010-11 provincial public accounts books -- the province's annual financial statements -- which were made public last week.

The note, on the bottom of page 114 of Volume I, says certain loans and advances to Crown corporations were reflected as assets in the core government filings, rather than expenditures, which is the public-sector accounting standard.

However, Bellringer said the note refers only to one part of the financial statements known as Core Government. That is the part of the budget that looks only at matters directly under the control of the government. It does not include Crown corporations, school divisions, health authorities or universities. Nor does it include measures such as the rainy day fund or any pension liabilities for money the government is behind on paying into pension plans.

All of those are included in the summary budget, which is the part of the public accounts statements auditors care about. "The summary budget is right," said Bellringer. "Nothing is being hidden anywhere."

That is why she signed off on the public accounts, she said.

Despite Bellringer's comments, Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen was adamant Wednesday the NDP had "fudged" its numbers to give Manitobans a false picture of the government's financial health.

"There's a cautionary note in there that there are certain aspects that are not in compliance with public-sector accounting standards," he said.

McFadyen also said the government's numbers don't account for what it spent fighting this year's flood.

He claimed the NDP has a habit of increasing spending in the face of shrinking revenue.

"Against that record of providing misleading information to Manitobans, we don't believe they are on track to balance by 2014 without a major tax increase," he said.

An NDP spokesman said the government stands by Bellringer's written opinion on the financial statements that they "present fairly in all material respects." He said the note is being taken out of context.

He also said the note does not pertain to loans and advances to Crown corporations like Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Public Insurance, but to school divisions, colleges and universities.

"It was to build schools and other infrastructure," he said. "These kinds of assets have a schedule for amortization and repayment. Those payments will be made annually over the life of the asset. It's the same approach we take for roads and other government-owned buildings for capital investments by Crown organizations."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2011 A7

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