The province is cheaping out on winter road maintenance, Ontario's auditor general says.
In her 43-page special report on roads, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk claims Ontario's motorists faced less safe winter highway conditions after the province made changes to how it contracted out winter road maintenance work.
She says that starting in 2009, the work was given primarily to the lowest bidders — bidders that she says did not have sufficient equipment to do the work.
"Over the past five years, winter highway maintenance service levels have declined from the level that Ontarians have historically been used to," Lysyk said in the report.
"The Ministry of Transportation has been successful in reducing and containing escalating winter maintenance costs, but the time it takes to clear highways during and after a storm, to make them as safe as possible for motorists in winter, has increased," Lysyk said.
The auditor general pointed to the average time to clear "Ontario's most-travelled highways" after a snow storm in 2009 and 2010 winter was 2.1 hours.
The average clear time in 2013 and 2014 winter more than doubled at 4.7 hours.
Lysyk noted in one case that the lowest bidder actually ended up costing more than the next-highest bidder, because the lowest bidder did not have the necessary equipment and the province had to pay for more equipment to clear roads properly.
If the next-highest bidder had been procured, the area could have been serviced with more equipment at a lower cost, she wrote.
Further, she wrote, more than one quarter of the areas where snowplowing was contracted out did not even meet the province's standard of clearing the most travelled highways within eight hours.
The Opposition Tories jumped on the report, accusing the governing Liberals of choosing savings over the safety of Ontarians.
PC transportation critic Michael Harris said the government "knowingly risked the lives" of Ontarians "to save a few dollars" on snowplowing.
Transportation minister Steven Del Duca called the province's highways "among the safest in North America" despite the report.
Read the entire report below.