AG longing for a ‘clean’ auditJune 15, 2018
Ontario’s watchdog on how the provincial government spends its money is hopeful but cautious about Ford government.
“I’m hopeful that through discussion, that the accounting adjustments will be made and that Ontario can go back to having clean audit opinions. I’d love to sign a clean audit opinion for Ontario,” Bonnie Lysyk, the auditor general of Ontario, said Thursday during a luncheon at Bryston’s On The Park in Copper Cliff.
“I’m hopeful adjustments can be made for the pension expense and the Fair Hydro Plan accounting.”
Lysyk had her battles with the former Liberal government and its accounting practices, including its so-called the Fair Hydro Plan.
In April, for example, Lysyk said this year’s budget shortfall would be $11.7 billion, not $6.7 billion, as former Finance Minister Charles Sousa had said in March.
Lysyk also calculated that the deficit forecast for next year is $12.2 billion — not the $6.6 billion Sousa had predicted — and for 2020-21, it’s $12.5 billion, not $6.5 billion.
Her calculations are connected to two items: the government failing to reflect the true financial impact of its Fair Hydro Plan’s electricity rate reduction in its estimates; and the former government improperly treating the revenues and expenses related to two provincial pension plans.
On June 7, the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne was reduced to seven seats and will be replaced by a Progressive Conservative government led by Doug Ford. Many voters in the province had become concerned by Ontario’s mounting debt, which now tops $325 billion.
During Tuesday’s luncheon, Lysyk said the accounting used in the Liberal’s Fair Hydro Plan, which borrowed money to reduce electricity rates by 25 per cent, troubled her.
That cost is kept off the province’s books, she said, because the cut is bankrolled through the new government-owned OPG Trust, which borrows money at higher interest rates than the government would.
Asked if Ontario’s current debt and projected debt in the future worries her, Lysyk said it isn’t for her to comment on such matters. Instead, she said her job is to focus on whether the debt figure is correct.
Patricia Mills, who earlier in the day announced she will be running in the October’s municipal election as a mayoral candidate in Sudbury, asked Lysyk for advice on how the city should handle the finances of projects such as the Downtown Masterplan, La Place Des Arts, Brady Street Green Stairs, the Elgin Street Pedestrian Underpass, the Maley Drive extension and the four-laning of Municipal Road 35.
These projects, Mills said, will cost $300 million.
Lysyk responded by saying that no matter which method the city chooses to handle finances for capital projects, there needs to be accountability and clear knowledge that the proper work is being done.
“You need to ensure that the people you hire are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Lysyk said. “You should never assume that things are going smooth on capital projects, you should always have your own people and making sure that things are being done right so that you don’t go over budget and you don’t miss your timelines for delivery.”
Lysyk became the province’s 13th auditor general in September 2013, after being the Provincial Auditor of Saskatchewan and Deputy Auditor General and Chief Operating Officer of Manitoba.
The Office of the Auditor General conducts independent financial audits of the public and Crown agencies, as well as value-for-money audits, in Ontario.