Joined: 02 Mar 2009
|Posted: Wed Dec 06, 2017 1:54 pm Post subject: Auditor General takes aim at Ontario liberals again
|( its sad when stories of waste and overspending are barely even news when they come out of queens park , we almost expect this government and associated agencies to waste our money , the auditor also doesn't believe the books are really balanced )
Auditor general takes aim at Ontario Liberals over spending and waste
Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk takes aim at Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals for lax oversight of electricity companies, which has cost consumers $300 million in higher bills.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk highlights a litany of problems, including Ontario paying more than other jurisdictions for generic prescription drugs while failing to cover the full cost of some cancer medications.
By Rob FergusonQueen's Park Bureau
Robert BenzieQueen's Park Bureau Chief
Wed., Dec. 6, 2017
Ontario’s fiscal watchdog does not believe the province’s books are balanced, complains the government spends too much on “partisan” advertising, warns sick days for school board employees are soaring, and finds hydro ratepayers are getting zapped.
In her annual report to the Legislature, the last before the June 7 provincial election, auditor general Bonnie Lysyk takes aim at Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals for lax oversight of electricity companies, which has cost consumers $300 million in higher bills.
That includes power plants billing for coveralls and parkas along with “staff car washes, carpet cleaning, road repairs, landscaping and raccoon traps, which have nothing to do with running power equipment on standby.”
Read more: Highlights from the Ontario auditor general’s 2017 annual report
Among those cited was the Goreway gas plant in Brampton that was recently fined $10 million for billing ineligible expenses.
Lysyk highlights a litany of problems, including Ontario paying more than other jurisdictions for generic prescription drugs while failing to cover the full cost of some cancer medications.
She noted there is a critical need for social housing; 185,000 households, representing 481,00 people, are on the waiting list, and just 170,805 households are now served.
“A theme that was central to almost all of our audits this year was the need for government to plan better — and sometimes to just have a plan in the first place,” Lysyk told reporters Wednesday at Queen’s Park.
“Good planning supports timely and informed decision-making and oversight, and can help avoid many of the issues we identified this year,” she said.
Over two volumes and 1,319 pages, Lysyk outlines her concerns about spending on 812 vacant government buildings, 600 of them unoccupied for an average of eight years, which costs $19 million a year for operations and maintenance.
While many are up for sale, the province “needs to dispose of real estate within its portfolio on a timelier basis,” she said.
The auditor found the average number of sick days taken by employees at four Ontario boards of education audited — the Toronto Catholic District School Board, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, Halton Catholic District School Board, and Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board — jumped from 8.4 days in 2011-12 to 13 days in 2015-16. That includes teachers and support staff, such as custodians.
Lysyk slammed school boards for being “ineffective” in dealing with the rise in absences, citing concerns from provincial associations representing school trustees that sick leave plans are too generous.
Under changes made five years ago in central bargaining with the province, education workers are allowed up to 131 days off with pay from a 194-day school year with the first 11 days off at full salary and 120 days at 90 per cent.
An end to the practice of banking sick days to be cashed out at retirement appears to be prompting them to take more leave.
At the four boards audited, nearly 25 per cent of special-needs students wait longer than a year to get psychological assessments and some had been on the waiting list for more than two years. In the Toronto Catholic board, half of the $46.5 million earmarked for at-risk students was used to cover shortfalls on teachers’ salaries and special education.
Even though a government-appointed expert panel of accountants concluded she is wrong about excluding the publicly owned assets of two joint-sponsored pension plans on the government’s bottom line, Lysyk continues to claim she is in the right on the actuarial dispute.
“We believe it does not currently have a pension asset worth $11.5 billion,” she wrote under an introduction to her report entitled “Reflections,” which also criticizes the Liberals’ 25-per-cent rebate on hydro bills.
“We continue to disagree with the government’s proposed accounting for its 2017 electricity rate reduction that will keep billions of dollars in real costs of its policy decision from impacting the province’s deficit and net debt figures,” said Lysyk, who estimated a deficit of $2.4 billion last year, not the $991-million shortfall, the government claims.
“The government uses these incorrect accounting treatments to claim it has balanced the province’s books, but, in reality, legislators, the financial community and all Ontarians, will be misled as to the true condition of the province’s finances.”
Notwithstanding her assertions, the Progressive Conservatives, who lead in public opinion polls, are using the Liberal government’s numbers for their fiscal forecasts should PC Leader Patrick Brown topple Wynne next spring. That suggests the accounting kerfuffle will likely continue past the election.
Another recurring complaint from the auditor is the fact the Liberals amended the Government Advertising Act in 2015 limiting her office’s authority to veto commercials they deemed to be “partisan.”
She noted that, in 2016-17, at $58 million, government advertising was at a 10-year high, with 30 per cent spent on ads that “appeared intended” to make Wynne’s administration look good. But overall ad spending is far lower than it was in 2006-07.
The spending included a $330,000-radio ad blitz to promote Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s spring budget. The campaign referred to Owen Sound, Parry Sound, Petawawa, and Wawa, all of which are in ridings not represented by Liberal MPPs. No other communities were mentioned in the province-wide radio spots. But the names appear to have been chosen for rhyming reasons, not political considerations.
“As they came barely a year before the provincial election scheduled for June 2018, these ads could give the impression that these communities were specifically targeted for government-friendly advertising,” the report said.
On electricity, Lysyk castigated the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator for paying owners of natural gas-fired power plants about $30 million more than necessary for being on standby to produce electricity.
She also found nine power-generation companies, using natural gas and coal, billed the province as much as $260 million between 2006 and 2015 in “ineligible costs,” of which only $168 million has been recovered.
One company charged $175,000 for parkas and coveralls during that time.
The IESO has “limited resources” in its oversight division and lacks legislated investigative powers “to do more and timelier work,” Lysyk said.
This year’s report also found homeowners are becoming increasingly frustrated in efforts to challenge their property-tax assessments.
A backlog in appeals had 16,600 households waiting for decisions as of last March, with more than 1,800 appeals outstanding for more than four years.
The Ontario Municipal Board, which adjudicates disputes about land-use issues by homeowners, developers and municipalities, takes heat from Lysyk for taking up to a year to issue decisions on about one-fifth of cases. However, 80 per cent of decisions are issued within 60 days.
New legislation will pass within days to transform the OMB into the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal to make it more transparent and accessible.