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Ontario's auditor general slams Liberal government over litany of problems

Ontario's auditor general says electricity customers in the province have paid billions of dollars for the Liberal government's decisions to ignore its own planning process for new power generation projects.

Hydro One outages, child-abuse checks, nursing-home inspections among problems noted

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk says the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure ignores the north despite having the mandate to serve the entire province. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

A litany of problems is laid bare in a report released Wednesday by Ontario's auditor general, from the growing frequency of Hydro One's power outages to a startling $140 million worth of mistakes in welfare payments.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk also raises concerns that inspections of school buses and nursing homes aren't being done on time, that Children's Aid Societies are failing to conduct basic background checks on potential child abusers, and that people are waiting too long for home care.

Lysyk released her annual report Wednesday morning at Queen's Park.

'Benefit calculation errors'

The auditor finds the province's new computer system for welfare payments is still riddled with problems and making millions in payment errors.

Lysyk said the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) has now made a total of $140 million in "benefit calculation errors," including $89 million in what she calls "potential overpayments" and $51 million in "potential underpayments." Both figures are far more than previously admitted by the government.

CBC News revealed a year ago that SAMS sent out some $19 million in welfare payments it shouldn't have, while sending some recipients too little money, or nothing at all.

Lysyk said the system still has 771 "serious defects" that are not yet fixed. "Until most of the serious defects are identified and fixed, SAMS will continue to generate errors." 

She criticizes the government for rushing the system into operation last fall despite knowing it had problems. The government has so far spent $290 million on SAMS, $90 million over budget.

Hydro One: less reliable but costing more

The report also includes the last report the office will do on Hydro One, now that it's no longer a Crown corporation.

Lysyk found Hydro One's service is getting less reliable yet costing more. The auditor general noted the frequency of power outages is on the rise and ranks Hydro One as the worst of all of Ontario's power companies for how long those outages last.

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli called Lysyk's report "a helpful roadmap as Hydro One moves forward."

The findings, he said, show what Ontarians already knew: "That Hydro One can be a better-run, better-managed company" that delivers better value.

His ministry has already taken action consistent with most of the report's recommendations, he said.

CAS is too slow

Lysyk said Ontario's 47 Children's Aid Societies are too slow at investigating allegations of abuse. Not one of the child-protection investigations her office reviewed was done within the required 30 days. Instead, the cases took an average of more than seven months.

Lysyk also chastises the government for failing to make sure every CAS acts on the recommendations of probes into children's deaths.

She said they far too often fail to perform basic background checks on the people involved with vulnerable children.

Nursing home residents at risk

The auditor said the 78,000 people in Ontario's nursing homes may be "at risk" because crucial inspections are behind schedule and orders to fix problems aren't being followed.

"Much more needs to be done to keep residents safe," said Lysyk. 

She said the backlog of ministry inspections of long-term care homes in response to complaints of neglect or incidents of abuse more than doubled in just 15 months. The backlog rose to 2,800 in March 2015, from 1,300 in December 2013.

When inspections are done and problems found, inspectors issue "compliance orders" to fix the problems. But Lysyk said the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care fails to check the orders have been carried out within its 30-day target about two-thirds of the time.  

Little oversight over school bus companies 

The safety of the 830,000 children who ride school buses in Ontario is another of Lysyk's concerns She criticizes the Ministry of Transportation for failing to ensure school bus safety inspections are always done on time, and for failing to ensure that all defects are fixed. The auditor's report said the government has "little oversight" of the companies that operate school buses and lets them certify their own buses for mechanical fitness. 

Lysyk also said Ontario's home-care system is riddled with problems, including ones that haven't been addressed since they were identified in a 2010 audit.

Wait times for getting personal support worker services are far too long, she wrote. People with identical home-care needs get different levels of service in different parts of the province, or in at least one region, no service at all.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the auditor general's findings show that the government is "out of touch" with Ontarians' needs.

"This report confirms what people across Ontario are feeling," Horwath told reporters at Queen's Park. "The choices this government is making aren't about them. They aren't about helping families get ahead, helping seniors or vulnerable children, and they're certainly not about fixing our hydro system."

Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod called the report "a stinging indictment of 12 years of Liberal government waste and mismanagement in almost every imaginable department, ministry and service area. Whether that is school busing, post-secondary education, energy, the SAMS computer system and, I think most troubling, the Children's Aid Society."

Other highlights of the auditor's report:

  • The problem of "bed blockers" — people staying in acute-care hospitals even after they've been discharged has actually worsened since 2007, when the government created regional bureaucracies (Local Health Integration Networks) that were supposed to deal with that problem.

  • The government hasn't even tried to measure whether the $1.45 billion it has spent on grants and interest-free loans to businesses have actually helped boost employment or the economy.

  • The auditor general is calling for "significant investment" in Ontario's aging schools. More than 100,000 students are in portable classrooms, yet Lysyk found the education ministry rejects about two-thirds of the school capital funding proposals it receives each year. 

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.

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