“We’re a party that believes very strongly that, like people, we should live within our means.”
This is what Premier Darrell Pasloski said of the Yukon Party, which has been in power since 2002, in an interview with the Star mere hours after the 2016-17 territorial budget was tabled earlier this month.
But a study by the C.D. Howe Institute released last week tells a different story.
Over a 15-year period, ending in 2015, the Yukon spent a total of $675 million more than it budgeted, according to the non-profit, non-partisan public policy think tank report.
To put this in perspective, that amounts to about half – 53 per cent – of the 2016 budget.
The study is called Controlling the Public Purse: The Fiscal Accountability of Canada’s Senior Governments.
It evaluated the accessibility and reliability of financial reports from the federal, territorial and provincial governments.
The Yukon came in second-last on a ranking of provincial and territorial budget overruns.
The territory did better than only Nunavut, which spent $1.37 billion more than it planned to over the same 15-year period.
The Northwest Territories ranked just above the Yukon, with $543 million in budget overruns.
Authors Colin Busby and William B.P. Robson also measured how close these governments came to meeting the spending and revenue estimates laid out in their annual budgets.
The report noted that, “Yukon and Nunavut’s budget projections were the worst guides to results among all jurisdictions.”
Official Opposition leader Liz Hanson of the NDP didn’t miss the chance to raise the damning study Monday in the legislature.
“Yukoners are not impressed by the rate at which economic forecasts continue to show the Yukon Party’s fiscal ineptitude,” Hanson said.
“Will the premier finally admit that, with three years of recession and yet another dressing-down by a national organization, he has failed to responsibly manage Yukoners’ money?”
In response, Premier Darrell Pasloski reiterated that his government does not run deficits and did not increase taxes.
“This government has done nothing but lower taxes for all Yukon taxpayers and Yukon small businesses and has no net debt,” Pasloski said.
“Money in the bank and no tax increases are the best indicators of financial management in this territory.”
Altogether, the federal, provincial and territorial governments spent $69 billion more than they set out to in their budgets over the 15-year study period, according to the C.D. Howe Institute.
“Revenue and spending routinely exceed the amounts approved by legislators, and by astonishing amounts,” Robson said in a statement about the study. “Failures of accountability have major real-world consequences.”
Governments also took in more in taxes than they anticipated in their budgets.
Revenue overshoots amounted to $118 billion over 15 years.
The Yukon received a nod for making the feature points in its budgets consistent with those on its public accounts.
Public accounts are the government’s financial statements with the actual financial results from the previous fiscal year.
However, the authors criticized the Yukon for not releasing reports between budgets that show the government’s progress toward meeting its spending goals.
Smaller jurisdictions like the Yukon may not have the resources to produce interim reports.
The Yukon was also called out for tabling its budgets late.
The two most recent territorial budgets were announced after the end of the fiscal year (March 31), and the two budgets before that were tabled in late March.
C.D. Howe measured the quality of government financial reporting by asking if “an intelligent and motivated non-expert – a citizen, taxpayer or legislator” would be able to find consolidated revenue and spending figures – the ones reviewed by the auditor general – in publicly available budget documents and financial statements.
Alberta and Saskatchewan came out on top, both earning A+ (90 to 100 per cent) grades for presentation in their financial reports.
The N.W.T., Nunavut, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island tied for worst, with marks of E (less than 50 per cent).
The Yukon scored in the lower-middle range for presentation, getting a C+, the same as Quebec.
The authors say that over the 15-year study period, governments’ financial reporting generally improved.