By Connor Lynch
QUEEN’S PARK — Ontario’s Auditor General released her latest report in December, and it had some scathing observations of public governance here in the province.
In particular for the ag sector in Ontario, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk identified some issues with the farm support programs in place. “Only one of Ontario’s four main farm-support programs, the Production Insurance Program, sufficiently helps farmers manage losses,” she wrote.
But she also identified some areas of remarkable overspending in the farm support programs. “The $100 million Ontario Risk Management Program often pays farmers with little regard to individual need; only half of farmers who received payments between 2011 and 2015 actually reported either a loss or a drop in income in the year they received the payment.” In other words, some Ontario farmers were paid out by risk management when they either didn’t suffer a loss, or even made more money than they had in the year before.
Lysyk partially blamed Agricorp for the overpayments, and partially blamed farmers themselves. “Overpayments occur due to incorrect and misleading information from farmers, which Agricorp often does not verify,” she wrote.
Her report also came with a scathing review of the Assessment Review Board, which hears appeals about MPAC assessments. MPAC was a particularly bothersome entity for farmers last year, when farmland assessments shot up all over the province. In her review, Lysyk found the board had a backlog of 16,600 appeals as of March 2017, and that 80 per cent of appeal board decisions were oral, which meant they were not subject to peer review.
Hydro also came into the auditor general’s sights, in particular the Independent Electricity System Operator. Its decision not to implement some recommendations, such as scaling back the Standby Recovery Program, over the last 15 years from the Ontario Energy Board’s Market Surveillance Panel cost Ontario taxpayers millions on their hydro bills, she wrote. The Standby Recovery Program alone costs $30 million per year.