Ontario auditor general report will be gift to Doug Ford government

Ontario's spending watchdog is expected to provide plenty of ammunition to Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives on Wednesday when she reveals her latest findings of government waste and inefficiency.

Auditor's findings are usually ammunition for the opposition, but not when party in power has just changed

Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, at the news conference releasing her 2017 annual report. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's spending watchdog is expected to provide plenty of ammunition to Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives on Wednesday when she reveals her latest findings of government waste and inefficiency.  

At noon, auditor Bonnie Lysyk revealed her annual report investigating whether taxpayers are getting value for money from 15 government programs or projects, including Metrolinx light-rail transit construction and the Darlington nuclear plant refurbishment.  

Because the auditor is probing spending that was largely done during the previous Liberal government's time in power, the PC government will almost certainly greet her recommendations with enthusiasm. 

"Any time the auditor general does the value-for-money audits, you want to look where government can do things better," said Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, the cabinet minister who keeps an eye on spending.  

Ford has already indicated he is a fan of Lysyk's work. Throughout the election campaign, he frequently referenced last year's auditor's report, in which the auditor tallied waste worth about $1 billion by looking at just 14 programs.

Although that money was spent over a period of much more than one year, Ford used Lysyk's report as evidence that he could easily find the $6 billion a year in efficiencies he'd promised on the campaign trail without cutting any jobs. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has pointed to last year's auditor general report as evidence that he could find $6 billion a year in spending efficiencies without cutting any jobs. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Lysyk has already published a list of the 15 audits she will release on Wednesday. 

Metrolinx, the provincial agency that runs GO Transit and oversees major transit construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area, goes under the auditor's microscope twice.

Lysyk will report on Metrolinx's controversial plans to build two new GO stations: one in Vaughan (at Kirby) and another in Scarborough (at Lawrence East). The planned Kirby stop is in the riding previously represented by former Liberal transportation minister Steven Del Duca. The Lawrence East stop is to be part of Mayor John Tory's SmartTrack plan.

The auditor is also probing how Metrolinx is managing the $5.3 billion Eglinton Crosstown project and other unspecified light-rail transit (LRT) lines. 

The "use of consultants and senior advisers" by the provincial government gets its own chapter in the auditor's report. Lysyk is assessing whether ministries are ensuring "efficient service delivery" by these external contractors.  

'Any time the auditor general does the value for money audits, you want to look where government can do things better,' said Peter Bethlenfalvy, president of the Ontario Treasury Board, in an interview Tuesday. (CBC)

With health care accounting for more than 40 per cent of the provincial budget, health care programs always catch the auditor's eye. This year, she is examining the timeliness of MRI and CT scans in hospitals, OHIP's spending on out-of-province and out-of-country medical treatment, and the Health Ministry's program to help people with disabilities purchase devices like wheelchairs and hearing aids. 

Other programs to be audited include: 

  • Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), including whether student loans are collected promptly when due.
  • Waterfront Toronto, including its management of more than $1.5 billion in revitalization funding.
  • Legal Aid Ontario and the cost effectiveness of its delivery of legal services.
  • The Technical Standards and Safety Authority, the agency that inspects such public-safety concerns as propane storage and elevators.
  • Ontario Works, the social assistance benefit provided to about 450,000 people every month.

The auditor also examines government spending on advertising, and whether the party in power is using it for partisan purposes. Under former premier Kathleen Wynne, the Liberals weakened the auditor's authority over ads, allowing the government to spend public money on ads that simply toot its own horn. It's a move the Liberals may come to regret, now that the PCs are in government and in control of the province's multi-million-dollar advertising budget.

The Ford government has already embraced Lysyk's pre-election critique that the Wynne Liberals were low-balling the provincial deficit. Using the auditor's accounting, the PCs say this year's deficit is actually $14.5 billion, far more than the $6.7 billion the Liberals projected last March.

A significant portion of the deficit difference comes from the Liberals' Fair Hydro Plan, which the PCs have adopted but are accounting for on the government's books instead of on Ontario Power Generation's.  

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. Follow him on Twitter @CBCQueensPark