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Condo watchdogs lack teeth, says Ontario's Auditor General

Ontario's auditor general is raising concern about the inspection regime covering retirement homes, fare refunds for GO train users and consumer protection for condo owners. 

Auditor's 2020 annual report also raises concerns about oversight of retirement homes, cannabis retail

Provincial regulators covering the condominium sector, "do not sufficiently protect condo owners," says auditor general Bonnie Lysyk in her new report. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's auditor general is raising concern about the inspection regime covering retirement homes, fare refunds for GO train users and consumer protection for condo owners. 

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk's annual report, released Monday, includes value-for-money audits of 13 government programs and agencies, inlcuding Metrolinx, the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority, and the agencies overseeing the condominium sector.  

The audit found the provincial regulators covering the condominium sector lack teeth. Lysyk says those agencies have limited mandates that "do not sufficiently protect condo owners against many of the common issues that they may encounter in their daily condo living." 

For example, the Condominium Authority of Ontario lacks the ability to inspect or investigate potential abuses or misconduct by condo boards, or to enforce compliance with the relevant laws and regulations, says the report. 

Another agency, the Condominium Management Regulatory Authority "does not effectively address complaints, inspect condo managers and management companies proactively, or identify unlicensed individuals and companies providing management services," the report says.

Ontario's auditor general says the provincial regulators covering the condominium sector lack teeth. (Google)

The audit also found the majority of condo boards surveyed did not have adequate reserve funds set aside to to cover future repairs and replacements. 

Lysyk says purchasers are not provided enough information on how condominium fees are set and managed.

Retirement home reviewers take months to deal with complaints, report finds

Inspections of retirement homes — where some 58,000 Ontario seniors live — are not adequately disclosed to the public, the audit found. 

Retirement homes, overseen by the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority, are not the same as long-term care homes (their residents are living more independently) but some have also been hard-hit by COVID-19 this year.   

The audit found the agency took as long as four and a half months to respond to formal complaints about the treatment of residents. 

Inspections found residents not being offered suitable meals, not being provided with personal hygiene services such as bathing and grooming, and bedsores left to become infected. 

Some 58,000 Ontario seniors live in retirement homes, which do not offer as much care as long-term care homes. Yet Ontario's auditor general found a growing number of seniors are waiting in retirement homes for a long-term care placement after being discharged from hospital. (Patrick Louiseize/Radio-Canada)

Patients discharged from hospital are increasingly spending time in retirement homes while they wait for placement in long-term care, the auditor found. 

More than 4,000 patients who no longer needed acute care in hospitals were discharged to retirement homes in 2019-2020, the report said. "Many of those people had health profiles similar to residents in long-term-care homes," Lysyk said.

Other highlights from the auditor's report include: 

  • GO Transit riders missed out on $2.2 million worth of fare refunds for delayed or cancelled trains. That's roughly three-quarters of all elgible fare refunds over the past five years related to problems with Metrolinx's information technology systems.  
  • The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario is not properly monitoring the movement of recreational cannabis in retail stores. Legal shops had 84,000 fewer units of cannabis on hand than recorded in their inventory systems in 2019-20, and the auditor says the commission "had no assurance that these units were not lost, stolen or diverted."  
  • Ontario's Electrical Safety Authority is not doing enough to track unlicensed electricians, the auditor says. The safety agency also collected $17 million in fees over the past five years to issue certificates for electrical inspections that were not conducted.  
  • Provincial art galleries are keeping too many of their works out of sight. The audit found that more than 70 per cent of the items in the Art Gallery of Ontario's collection had not been displayed since they were acquired, and about half of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection's pieces had not been displayed for more than 20 years.  
  • The agency that oversees Ontario's funeral industry is doing too little to protect people from getting ripped off during their time of bereavement. The audit found that only one out of four firms discloses price lists on their website. The auditor hired "mystery shoppers" to go to 100 funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoriums and found that sales pressure or misleading information from half of the firms.   
GO Transit riders have missed out on $2.2 million worth of fare refunds for delayed or cancelled trains, the auditor general says. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The report also includes the annual audit of government advertising.

The auditor says the Ford government spent $9.5 million of public money in 2019-20 on advertising that she defined as partisan. That amounts to roughly one-quarter of the government's entire annual spending on advertising.

The ad campaigns that drew her criticism for their partisan tone focused on three areas: the government's environment plan, its actions on addressing the provincial debt, and those focused on infrastructure improvements. 

Ontario's expansion of virtual health-care services was too slow leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will need more work to continue in an effective and sustainable manner after the global crisis ends, the auditor general said. 

Lysyk found the province has been slow to integrate virtual care services with its health-care system, and while the government relaxed its rules around billing for remote care earlier this year to accommodate the surge in demand, that work will need to accelerate after the pandemic.

The Ford government spent $37.6 million on advertising in the 2019-20 fiscal year, says Ontario's auditor general. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

The auditor found the Ontario Telemedicine Network, which offers remote care, and the Ministry of Health "do not have effective systems and procedures in place to offer virtual care services more long term in a cost-efficient manner to meet Ontarians' needs," Lysyk said in a statement.

What's more, she said, the audit found "numerous cases" where physicians had "significantly high" billings for virtual care, including one case where a doctor billed $1.7 million for remote services in 2019-2020 and another $1.9 million for in-person services. That same doctor reported seeing as many as 321 patients virtually in one day, the report said.

Lysyk also raised concerns about the proliferation of private, for-pay virtual care services, saying they have "created risk of unequal access to health care, as well as oversight risk" since they are not under provincial purview.

with files from The Canadian Press

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