Strategic Thoughts

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October 23, 2006

No Support for $287 million in Expected Revenue

How reliable are the quarterly financial statements that Finance Minister Carole Taylor provides in September, November and February? Table 1.1 in the First Quarterly Report, made public September 15 , showed that higher "own-source" revenue from school districts and health authorities would add $109 million to the province's bottom line this year, $115 million next year and a further $63 million two years from now. On September 17th I submitted a freedom of information request asking for any documents that comment on or explain the increase and for any details that might be available by school district or health authority. The request also asked for any details that might be available on the composition of the own-source revenue, for example, how much is due to vending machines, student-fees or charges for diagnostic procedures.

On October 23rd I received two letters dated October 18th from the Ministry of Finance informing me that my request had been transferred to the Ministries of Health and Education because the records are in the custody and/or control of those ministries. In other words, the Ministry of Finance is reporting an unexpected cumulative gain of $287 million over three years but it doesn't have the custody or control of the records that document what it has reported. That should be cause for some concern. I have asked the Ministry of Finance to double-check whether it really has no documents that support its inclusion of $287 million in unexpected revenue in its First Quarterly Report.

As a consequence of sitting on my request for 22 of the 30 working days allowed under the Information and Privacy Act for a response, before deciding to refer my request to other ministries, the deadline for responding is now postponed from October 31 to 30 working days after the ministries receive the referral. Presuming they received it when I was notified, that would extend the deadline to December 4th, several weeks after the Second Quarterly Report must be tabled by Taylor. If past experience is any indication, I expect an appeal to the Commissioner will be necessary before the request is honoured; I would be delighted if the Campbell government, which campaigned with the promise of being open and honest, would prove me wrong. In the meantime, the Ministries of Finance, Health and Education can expect a similar request for information based on what its Second Quarterly Report says with respect to own-source school and health revenue, especially since that revenue will likely be affected by the recent court ruling on student-fees. A truly transparent government would make such information available on its website so freedom of information requests would not be necessary.

September 18, 2006

School and Health "Own-Source" Revenue Up

User fees in schools have been in the news thanks to Victoria School trustee John Young's court fight to stop two tier education and make school boards and the province adhere to the School Act; controversy has also visited the health authorities with the revelation that hospitals have violated the Canada Health Act by allowing some patients to pay to jump the queue for diagnostic procedures.

In light of those controversies, consider part of the explanation for the increased budget surplus enjoyed by the province. Finance Minister Carole Taylor tabled her First Quarterly Report which says that revenue from miscellaneous sources is expected to be up $109 million in fiscal year 2006-07, $115 million in 2007-08 and $63 million in 2008-09 "mainly due to higher school-generated funds in school districts and an improved own-source revenue outlook from health authorities." How does the increase in revenues break down between the various sources, for example, international students, vending machines, cafeteria programs and the fees school boards charge students for courses in the core curriculum? For the health authorities, what are the different types of own-source revenue and how much is due to hospitals charging patients for services that should be fully covered under MSP and the Hospital Insurance Act?

Although the government brags about being "transparent" and fully compliant with generally accepted accounting principles, it doesn't have a very good reputation when it comes to answering questions like this. Nevertheless, a freedom of information request has been submitted in an attempt to see how open and honest the Campbell government might be.


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