By Connor Lynch
Ontario’s books have gotten a clean bill of health from the Auditor General, though there’s always room for waste in the halls of government.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk clashed with the previous Liberal government over its accounting practices, which, she said low-balled Ontario’s deficit for 2018-2019 by $5 billion.
But she called the province’s current bookkeeping, under the PC government, a “clean” audit meaning the public can be confident in the accuracy of numbers.
But where there is government oversight, there is waste identified. Nothing in the report stands out for farmers or rural residents, but here’s a couple of tidbits of government inefficiency:
• Schools can be a sore point in farm country, with many rural schools on the chopping block. The annual report also found that access to technology was grossly uneven among schools. Some schools offer one laptop for eight students, while at other schools each student is assigned a laptop. Some school boards had no policy on technology even though they determine how much funding individual schools get for technology and spent $227 million on computers and software from 2017-2018.
• Ontario routinely and significantly overpays for medical assistive devices like home oxygen. The province also rarely follows up on vendors who submit bogus claims or overcharge. One vendor returned $250,000 to the province for ineligible claims, but then submitted more claims totalling $5.8 million and none of those claims were verified.
• The government relies on costly consultants, mostly IT consultants, for long-term work that could be done more cheaply with full-time employees, the report concludes. In one case, a consultant’s bill after having his contract extended three times was $900,000. Full-time staff could’ve done it for about $540,000, according to the auditor general’s estimates.
According to a report of Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office (FAO), Ontario’s deficit spiked. The office is projecting the deficit to more than triple, from $3.7 billion to $12.3 billion by the spring.
The spike is caused by extra spending in the Liberal budget that the Ford government inherited, largely in the areas of child care and health care, while at the same time the province did not sufficiently reduce spending in other areas or raise taxes to cover the added costs.
Without raising any taxes, the current government would have to cut spending by about $850 per Ontarian to balance the budget by 2023, the auditor general’s report concluded.
Said FAO Chief Economist David West: “It’s not like there’s a recession or downturn. It’s because of government choices.”
Ontario’s very public accounting dispute with the auditor general is not to blame either, said West.
The report also has teeth. The law that creates the office also mandates the government to bring forward a plan to get the province’s budget balanced if it presents a deficit, which Finance Minister Vic Fedeli will get a chance to do next spring.