Auditor general calls province’s extra-budgetary spending ‘terribly disappointing’

Nova Scotia spent over $1.6 billion without house approval in 2022

3 min read
Attorney General Kim Adair at a press conference
caption Kim Adair says the province needs to be more transparent.
Dylan Taylor

Auditor general Kim Adair’s annual report demands that the province discuss more of their spending in the legislature.

The official recommendation to debate all government expenditures comes after a year of inaction following Adair’s last report, which suggested the same thing.

At a Tuesday press conference on the annual report, Adair was critical of the government’s refusal to address the issue.

“I find that terribly disappointing for the Nova Scotia taxpayer,” she said. “In my view, they should expect the same level of accountability and transparency when it comes to budget overspending as happens in every other province in this country, as well as at the federal level.”

Most provinces must review and approve any spending not outlined in their budget in their legislatures. Nova Scotia, by contrast, can legally exceed this amount without debate, despite protests from the province’s last three auditor generals.

Over the past 10 years, the province has approved $6.1 billion of these undiscussed additional appropriations. In 2022, these appropriations totalled $1.66 billion, which represents an 82 per cent increase from the year before.

The report also suggests that MLAs should meet more often in order to hold themselves accountable for extra spending. In 2021, it met less than any other province: while the average for legislatures across Canada was 60 days, Nova Scotia met for only 33.

Adair said this is part of the problem.

“I think it demonstrates the lack or the very limited ability of legislators to ask questions about this additional spending,” she said.

Additional appropriations are intended to deal with extenuating circumstances that governments couldn’t have anticipated when drafting budgets, such as natural disasters.

In 2022, the Houston government’s additional spending was used to pay for a number of non-emergency initiatives, like the $200 million it used on retention bonuses for nurses.

In a statement, the Department of Finance and the Treasury Board indicated that they weren’t planning on making any changes.

“Detailed information about additional appropriations is provided to media and posted online for all Nova Scotians to access,” the statement reads. “We will continue to use this approach.”

Liberal leader Zach Churchill talks to reporters at the Attorney General's press conference
caption Zach Churchill says the Houston government should refocus their spending.
Dylan Taylor

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill says these appropriations cannot be considered money well spent.

“When you look at the fact that the government said that this money was going to result in 2,000 nurses coming back into practice, and they had 148, that tells me that this wasn’t fully thought out,” he said.

Churchill said he would support legislation requiring the government to discuss extra-budgetary spending in the legislature.

NDP MLA Susan Leblanc echoed Churchill’s concerns. She said the NDP is in favour of changing the rules as well.

Susan Leblanc talks to reporters at the Auditor General's press conference
caption Susan Leblanc tells reporters about the NDP’s efforts to increase government accountability.
Dylan Taylor

“The additional appropriations and huge amount of extra spending of public money without debate or scrutiny by the legislature is a real problem,” she said.


Dec. 6, 2023: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the auditor general. It is Kim Adair.

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Dylan Taylor

Dylan Taylor makes music, journalism and music journalism in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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