The province's auditor general is not supposed to love everything that the government is doing. As the chief examiner of how governments spend and misspend your money, if there is ever a year when the auditor has nothing but good things to say, it would probably also be the year we'd need a new auditor general.
This year is no exception, with concerns about everything from public tendering to the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation failing to adequately inspect licenced premises. More on those another day.
Because this year's report, in a section examining the relatively boring section known as the consolidated summary financial statements of the province for the year ended March 31, 2012, contains probably the clearest condemnation of the province's waste of huge oilfield revenues that an auditor general has put forward in years.
The auditor highlighted the section with its own news release and bullet points, many of which should strike alarm in taxpayers across the province.
They're dry enough, but taken altogether, they outline a series of concerns about the fiscal direction we're all heading in. Here are the most serious six:
° While provincial net debt has declined to $7.8 billion at March 31, 2012, a forecast deficit in 2012-13 of $726 million will push net debt to an estimated $8.9 billion by March 31, 2013.
° Provincial obligations related to employee future benefits (pensions and group health and life insurance) continue to increase. The combined liability exceeds $5 billion at March 31, 2012.
° Expenses have grown by $3.1 billion from 2002-03 to 2011-12, a cumulative growth rate of 66 per cent over this period.
° Per capita expenses in Newfoundland and Labrador are the highest of any province in Canada and are 50 per cent higher than the average of all other provinces for the year ended March 31, 2012.
° Spending on tangible capital assets (infrastructure) averaged approximately $750 million in the fiscal years ended March 31, 2011 and 2012 - approximately three times greater than the average annual spending on tangible capital assets from 2003 to 2010.
° Changing demographics in Newfoundland and Labrador will have a significant impact on the nature of services required, how they are delivered and their associated cost.
To put that in simpler terms, per capita, we're outspending every other province, our debt is now growing, and expenses - including two years of capital spending that peaked in 2012 and 2011 at 300 per cent of earlier rates - are also leapfrogging ahead. We're unlikely to be able to continue to operate like that in any way, especially as provincial oil revenues are scheduled to slide and our population ages out of prime earning and taxing years and into higher-cost retirement.
There are, of course, reasons for most spending: the government would argue it was repairing infrastructure that had been virtually abandoned in lean years, and probably could make a case that it's expensive to provide services to a small and spread-out population.
But if there's a clear message in something as simple as the auditor general's bullet points, it's that we depend too much on oil revenues and that, in the final analysis, we can't afford the lifestyle that we've recently grown accustomed to.