Robyn Urback: Auditor general report confirms what’s wrong with Ontario’s Liberals: everything

ont_byelections_20130802

There’s an episode in the 11th season of the Simpsons in which Mr. Burns goes to the Mayo Clinic for a check-up, after being named the oldest man in Springfield. There, the doctor tells him he is the sickest man in the United States. “You have everything,” he informs him.

“You mean, I have pneumonia?” Burns asks.

“Yes.”

“Juvenile diabetes?”

“Yes.”

“Hysterical pregnancy?”

“Uh, a little bit, yes.”

Though it sounds like bad news, the doctor explains that all of his diseases exist in him in “perfect balance.” As an illustration, the doctor grabs a handful of oversized “novelty” diseases and tries to cram them through a miniature door, all at the same time. But since the diseases are so numerous, and are all tangled up together, none is about to break through the opening.

“So what you’re saying is: I’m indestructible,” Mr. Burns says.

“Oh, no, no,” the doctor replies, “in fact, even a slight breeze could —”

“Indestructible,” Burns interjects, wistfully.

This scene kept playing over and over in my head as I read the litany of indictments outlined in Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report on Wednesday. The report skewered the Liberal government over its handling of the energy file, over delays in home health care, over the enduring problems with the province’s 47 children’s aid societies and over many, many other problem-riddled departments under the purview of the Ontario government. Indeed, if I were to summarize the findings of Lysyk’s 770-page document, it seems the big issue with the Liberal government is: everything.

Unbelievable overspending? Yes. Debilitating arrogance? Yes. Toxic disorganization? Yes. “Hysterical pregnancy?” Possibly, I’ll have to check again.

Each chapter — or, rather, each subsection of each chapter — is undoubtedly worthy of its own discussion. In Chapter 3, Lysyk outlines how the government rushed into its implementation of a new computer system for managing welfare payments, called the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS). Lysyk says that even though SAMS was not fully tested, the Ministry of Community and Social Services launched it anyway, since “it considered the risks of delaying the launch greater than the risks of launching a system that was not fully ready.” The result was that SAMS has been responsible for about $140 million in benefit calculation errors, with $89 million going to potential overpayments and $51 million to potential underpayments.

On home health care, the audit found that support and services vary depending on where clients live, on the proficiency of individual care co-ordinators and on fluctuating targets and standards of care. Though overall funding for Ontario’s 14 Community Care Access Centres has gone up by 73 per cent over the last decade, clients still face long wait times for services and, in one case, there were nine times more people waiting for services at the end of the fiscal year compared to the beginning.

The audit also showed improper oversight of school bus companies, a failure to regularly conduct background checks on individuals responsible for vulnerable children in the care of children’s aid societies and about $1.45 billion doled out in corporate welfare, much of which was not made public.

But the most damning indictment in the audit was of the Liberal’s handling of the energy file. Lysyk found that between 2006 and 2014, Ontarians paid $37 billion over the market price for electricity. Prices for residential usage has gone up 70 per cent over the same time period and the province has made a habit of ignoring expert advice in pursuing costly energy initiatives, such as converting a coal plant into a biomass facility, even after it was told it would not be cost-effective. The audit confirmed that Ontario is making too much energy and paying too much for green energy, all while Hydro One equipment stands at a “very high risk of failing.”

The breadth of mismanagement detailed in those 770 pages makes this report perhaps the most astonishing this province — certainly this government — has ever seen. To give it a meticulous read, one might think it could be the Liberal’s early swan song, but then you take a step back and realize all of those screw-ups — the crippling waste, the apathy to expert advice, the dangerous lack of oversight — are all cramming in to get through the door at the same time. As a result, nothing gets through.

In the same way that a single death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is a statistic — a single scandal is an outrage, but a series of scandals is sloughed off as business as usual, at least for this government. Each mess-up is competing for airtime, so none of them gets their due. Perhaps that’s why this government seems to think itself “invincible.”

National Post

Robyn Urback • rurback@nationalpost.com |

Robyn Urback | December 4, 2015 | Last Updated: Dec 5 12:18 AM ET

Leave a Reply