A pre-Christmas wake-up call from Ontario’s AG

By MPP Toby Barrett

As your Ontario Legislature wrapped up for Christmas, an important document landed on MPP’s desks – the Auditor General’s 2013 Annual Report.

I sit on Public Accounts – a Standing Committee charged with reviewing and facilitating the Auditor General’s work.

The report from recently-appointed AG Bonnie Lysyk describes value-for-money audits ranging from Ontario Power Generation to autism to land ambulance issues.

Ontario Power Generation – one of the largest generators in North America – has seen production decrease by 23 per cent over the past decade largely due to lower demand.

Despite this drop in demand, the price of electricity has more than doubled. Labour costs in 2012 were about $1.7 billion, or 64 per cent of its total costs. As the Auditor General reported, while OPG’s overall staffing levels have gone down about 8.5 per cent, its executive and senior management went up by a staggering 58 per cent.

As well, since 2005, OPG’s employee compensation and pensions are significantly richer than comparable public sector positions. OPG is also solely responsible for financing its pension, which is about $555 million in the hole. And then this – an employee received over $392,000 in relocation benefits from OPG, on top of the proceeds of $354,000 from the sale of his old residence.

Lysyk went on to report despite government autism funding quadrupling over the past decade, more children are waiting for government-funded autism services than receiving them.

Although scientific research shows children with milder forms of autism have better outcomes with intensive behavior intervention, the program is currently available only to children assessed with more severe autism.

Ontario does not have a provincial autism strategy. However, in May 2013, one of my caucus colleagues was instrumental in having a motion passed creating a select committee to work on a comprehensive developmental services strategy planned to include autism.

The Auditor General’s report also shows access to health care remains problematic, particularly in rural, remote and northern areas of Ontario. As of 2011, only five per cent of physicians practiced in rural Ontario despite 14 per cent of the population living there.

Many specialists trained in Ontario – at a cost of about $780,000 each – do not stay and practice here because there are few full-time jobs. In addition, 33 per cent of surgical specialist graduates leave every year.

Nearly one in three students is overweight. Almost 12 per cent are considered obese – almost twice as many as in the late 1970s. After healthier food choices were introduced, secondary school cafeteria sales at the three school boards visited by the AG’s team decreased between 25 and 45 per cent. Vending machine revenue also dropped between 70 and 85 per cent. Principals said many students now preferred to eat at nearby fast-food restaurants.

From 2005/06 to 2011/12, Ontario’s land ambulance funding to municipalities nearly doubled. However, patients transported increased by only 18 per cent. In 2012, only about 60 per cent of the 50 municipalities responded to 90 per cent of their emergency calls within 15 minutes.

These numbers help to tell the true tale of wasteful spending in Ontario. My Christmas wish is for a more accountable government in Ontario in the New Year.

Join me at my New Year’s levee on Jan. 5, 2-4 p.m., held this year at my home at 311 Cockshutt Road.