COVID-19: Auditor general releases report on provincial pandemic relief

B.C.’s auditor general Michael Pickup has released his first report, a summary of the province’s COVID-19 pandemic spending.

The report, released Friday, is only a snapshot of B.C.’s financial situation as of Aug. 18 and is not an audit. It does not assess how the money has been spent.

It includes funding allocations under the $5-billion Pandemic Contingencies allocation, B.C.’s $1-billion contribution toward a federal cost-sharing agreement and other relief measures.

Of the $5-billion Pandemic Contingencies allocation, $3.5 billion has been reserved for individuals and households, critical services and business and industry.

Of this, the auditor general identified allocations totalling around $2.6 billion, including $1.9 billion for individuals and household; $642 million for critical services; And $100 million for business and industry.

That means there is about $0.88 billion that has not yet been identified.

At a news conference Friday, Pickup said his office does not have an issue with the significant amount of money that has not been allocated.

“This is of course a lot of money but it wasn’t an issue with us in terms of it ought to have already been identified. In fact, we said given the nature of the pandemic and the amount of money that was initially announced it wasn’t unexpected that it would have been all allocated by August 18,” he said.

“We are really just pointing out that at that point in time the money had not yet been allocated.”

The remaining $1.5 billion has been set aside for economic recovery, but this money has not yet been allocated, Pickup said, in a news release Friday.

In addition to the $5-billion and $1-billion funding allocations, the auditor general has identified approximately $1.6 billion in other financial relief measures, as well as $6 billion in deferrals.

Those measures include $914 million in revenue reductions; $500 million for the one-time B.C. climate action tax credit; $203 million in funding presumed to be from ministry base-budget allocations; And $6 billion in deferrals, which includes the postponement of specific payments, fees, taxes or bills for businesses and individuals.

​”Given the emergent nature of the pandemic, the way that government allocates money will continue to shift,” Pickup said.

“From here, my office is carefully considering options for future work. We may choose to audit certain aspects of the government’s pandemic preparedness, response and recovery.”

This is the first report from Pickup, who became B.C.’s new auditor general in July.

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