Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk continues to call out government on bad accounting

April in Queen’s Park
By Jim McDonell

If any government had to pick two issues to manage well, above all others, taxpayers’ money and integrity would make the shortlist. In April, the Legislature was confronted with a government that, having run its course over 15 years, lost track of both.

Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk continued to call the government out on their bad accounting. The scale of the discrepancies between the Auditor’s estimates, which we trust, and those of a government very eager to be re-elected, which we take skeptically, is immense. The government must table a report on the state of the Province’s finances before an election and allow the Auditor-General sufficient time to review it. This review was scathing. The Auditor-General said the government’s figures are “not a reasonable presentation of Ontario’s finances.” The government claimed a $6.7 billion deficit over each of the next three years when in reality it will range between $11.7 and $12.5 billion. Our provincial debt will rise above $400 billion if the government maintains its present course, a whopping 40 percent of GDP. This is not sustainable and can’t be allowed to happen. Two accounting tricks were used to arrive at the lowballed deficit estimates. First, the debt arising from the government’s temporary hydro rate reduction plan has been placed with OPG’s and hidden from the government’s balance sheet. Secondly, revenues and assets in certain public pension plans are added to the government’s figures to make the numbers look better. This is pensioners’ money and cannot be accessed and spent by the government for its purposes!

David Livingston, a former Chief of Staff to Dalton McGuinty, who was found guilty in the gas plants trial, was sentenced to four months in jail on April 11. The judge who pronounced the sentence stated that Livingston’s actions amounted to “an affront to, and an attack upon, democratic institutions and values.” Over the years, this government has concealed and obfuscated information, whether through stalled Freedom of Information requests or political moves to avoid scrutiny, such as thwarting a Committee investigation into Hydro One by suddenly moving the government’s shares into a holding company. Elsewhere, they failed to act when they should have. During hearings on corrections reform, we heard how the government had been alerted 50 times to the plight of a man awaiting trial who had spent more than 1,500 days in solitary confinement. It even triggered a Minister’s visit; however, it was all in vain. Governments owe it to their citizens to be honest, open, admit to mistakes, and take ownership of problems that clearly arise from bad policy or political neglect.

This is my last monthly column before the June 7 general election as the writ is to be called on May 9. I wish all of you, including candidates and residents, a very active, productive, passionate, and informative campaign. As we mull over the various platforms, let’s ask ourselves one question in particular. What can we do to leave our children a better, stronger, safer, and more prosperous Ontario than the one we inherited from our parents? Our advocacy should always rest on this objective.