Auditor general raises doubts about B.C.’s books, saying surplus was $6.5-billion higher

British Columbia’s auditor general has raised doubts about the accuracy of the province’s public accounts, saying the $1.3-billion surplus announced by the government this week should have been about six times bigger.

The audit office says in a news release that its qualified opinion is “unusual and should not be taken lightly.”

Auditor general Michael Pickup’s office says there were three departures from generally accepted accounting principles in the books that were released Tuesday, including the way B.C. records payments from other governments and non-government sources.

It says if the financial statements followed Canadian Public Sector Accounting Standards, the 2021-22 surplus would have been $6.48-billion higher, and liabilities would have been lower by the same amount.

The office says a second problem meant there were incomplete disclosures of future expenditures, resulting in the understatement of contractual obligations of $708-million in 2023 and $315-million in 2024.

The third issue relates to the BC First Nations Gaming Revenue Sharing Agreement, resulting in what the audit office says is a $91-million understatement of both revenues and expenses from the deal.

Pickup says in the news release that the government’s method of accounting in relation to the gaming agreement “lacks transparency.”

“It does not accurately reflect how they’ve structured the agreement and the underlying transaction,” says Pickup.

Pickup’s office has had long-standing concerns with the way B.C. does its books, particularly in the way that funding for capital projects is reflected.

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