Opinion » Editorial


Last month Auditor General George Morfitt released a report on issues of public interest. Two of the issues were special warrants and government employee numbers. The report is not encouraging reading for anyone concerned about government spending. A synopsis as presented in a press release: Through a special warrant the government can authorize itself to spend public monies without obtaining the prior approval of Members of the Legislative Assembly. Special warrants are therefore statutory exceptions to the democratic principle that parliament must give its approval before the government spends public money. A special warrant is approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, but may not be issued when the Assembly is in session. Morfitt’s office has provided comments and recommendations on the subject in at least three of his public reports over recent years, but no action on them has yet been taken. In addition, political leaders and government studies have also provided comment in recent years. The consensus generally is that procedural reform is needed, particularly to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of Members of the Legislative Assembly regarding public expenditures are respected by the government. Morfitt found that the years of greatest use of special warrants have been election years. During the past 16 years the average annual spending authorized by special warrant, not counting election years, has been $289 million. When election years are included, the yearly average soars to more than $1.1 billion. Morfitt believes that the only way reform will occur is if the statutory authority for the use of special warrants is amended, if not repealed. The study on government employee numbers set out to answer the question, "How many people work for the provincial government?" Answering the question required a good deal of analysis. Government currently provides information on FTEs (full-time equivalents, a measure of the number of paid hours worked expressed in terms of the number of people working full time) in its annual estimates. However, legislation requires these numbers to be for only those people employed under the Public Services Act, and this does not correspond to the numbers who work in government ministries, since some people employed under the Public Services Act do not work in ministries, and some who do work in ministries are not employed under the Act. As a result, the FTEs in the estimates do not correspond to the number of people whose salary dollars are shown in the estimates. Morfitt believes that the government should be reporting the FTEs for the whole of government, not just for central government. As a result of surveying Crown corporations and agencies, and analyzing government figures, Morfitt calculated that for the 1995/96 fiscal year there were 37,533 FTEs in central government and a further 30,291 in Crown corporations and agencies, for a total of 67,824 FTEs in the whole of government.

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