The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) renewed calls to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe for the province to ensure municipalities make financial documents available online to the public.
“The situation is really simple. People deserve to know what their leaders are doing with the community’s money,” CTF Prairie Director Todd MacKay said.
“That’s true when you’re talking about the federal government and the provincial government — and it’s also true when you’re talking about municipal governments.”
In Saskatchewan, municipalities are required by law to provide their financial documents to the Ministry of Government Relations to ensure compliance. So, the CTF argues there is “no reason” for the provincial government to not publish these documents online.
“Either the province has these documents and isn’t putting them up, or they’re not enforcing the law by making sure everybody provides the documents they’re required to provide,” MacKay said “In either case, the provincial government has some work to do.”
A ministry of government relations spokesperson said in a written response that the province is “committed to encouraging municipal transparency.”
The ministry said Saskatchewan recently amended legislation in order to extend the requirement to post public accounts as part of public reporting beyond cities.
When the legislative amendments come into force, all municipalities will be required to prepare public accounts annually and make them available to the public.
“The ministry is currently creating working groups to finalize reporting requirements and reporting methods, and participation is welcomed from all interested stakeholders,” the ministry wrote.
“The ministry is also considering options for an online system where municipal finances would be publicly available, including the provision of data on Saskatchewan.ca.”
The CTF released a municipal spending report in March and argued Saskatchewan needs “to step up to the plate” and publish municipal financial documents, in line with First Nations communities and other provinces like Alberta and Ontario.
Alberta’s municipal affairs ministry has a searchable online database, where you can find a municipality’s audited financial statements and its tax rate bylaw for a given year.
“In Saskatchewan, we don’t have something like that. It’s not rocket science to do,” MacKay said. “It needs to be done and that’s why we thought we’d try to give it a little push in the right direction.”
The ministry said the COVID-19 pandemic has “resulted in adjustments” to project timelines because its focus has been on supporting municipalities through the pandemic. Citizens are encouraged to bring their concerns to their locally elected municipal council.
“As an independent level of government, municipalities are accountable to their citizens and are required to be open and transparent,” the ministry wrote.
“Members of the public are currently able to obtain a municipality’s financial statements and mill rate information directly from municipal administration offices. This will continue to be an option for accessing municipal financial information.”
MacKay said residents deserve to know where their communities stand financially.
He said many municipalities “do a good job” of being transparent and keeping residents informed — but those that don’t need help getting back on track.
“There’s always a few that aren’t doing a great job — who aren’t taking the steps they need to take to make sure that they’re being as transparent as possible by providing that accountability proactively,” MacKay said.
“There needs to be a system in place to get those folks back on track and in Saskatchewan I don’t see a good system for that.”