Auditor general’s report shines pre-election spotlight on governance

While the Auditor General of Ontario is a non-partisan role, the opposition Progressive Conservatives and NDP likely are quite pleased with the blow Bonnie Lysyk levelled against the Liberal government in her annual report last week.

Lysyk’s report painted the picture of a stale governing party that doesn’t have a firm grasp on its policy objectives despite a growing and costly public sector. Her words: “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” were damning. Her office’s research suggested the province has lagged in areas across its spectrum of responsibilities.

In education, there hasn’t been an independent review of school board funding models since 2002, despite recommendations to do so. There are no metrics to compare per-student or per-school fundings from region to region or within the same region. Special education funding also isn’t geared to students needing special education programming.

In health care, Lysyk said there hasn’t been adequate studies of primary care models which models would work best. Funding for Community Health Centres was based on historical levels with no adjustments based on performance. The centres had varied levels of service compared to their targets. There also was no set definition of what services should be included in the centres. Other discouraging news from the health sector included lab rates not being updated in 20 years, no plan to re-home costly out-of-province tests, and little oversight on billings for lab tests. It was also suggested the province could negotiate better prices for generic drugs given comparisons elsewhere in the world.

The report also suggested assessment tribunals are backlogged; the Independent Electricity System Operator pays gas generators more than necessary and paid out $260 million for ineligible costs that should have been found; and the province paid almost $19 million last year to operate and maintain 812 vacant buildings — three-quarters of which have been vacant for eight years. It also questions the level of duplication of federal services for refugees.

Overall, of 30 provincial entities sampled, only half published annual reports with disclosed outcome-based performance targets. Nearly as many departments did not provide an analysis of financial performance for the year.

In a province that has seen its debt grow for 15 years in a row with it ballooning to over $300 million, which also has a large public infrastructure deficit, it is important government takes a lead in finding savings and innovating more effective ways to offer vital service ratepayers count on. Reading Lysyk’s report makes one wonder what progress is being made and whether this government has become complacent in looking for ways to serve better.

With all the parties making large-scale promises to cater to the electorate six months out from the election, the validity of which can be debated, governance itself must come to the forefront. All three parties should be made to answer to Lysyk’s concerns and demonstrate why they are best suited to handle the day-to-day management that appears to have been mismanaged to the detriment of Ontarians.

-Adam Bramburger