Taxpayers being played by OLG spending

By MPP Toby Barrett

Just as the Ontario Legislature rose for the summer, Jim McCarter, the province’s Auditor General, released a special report into the expense practices of Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) employees. The findings of this report exemplify this current government’s inability to control runaway spending.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was shamed into asking the Auditor General to review expense practices for the OLG’s 7,700 full-time and part-time staff following the firing of OLG chief executive Kelly McDougall and the resignation of the entire OLG board last summer. You may recall that executives had billed taxpayers for such things as expensive dinners, and memberships to gyms, golf and weight loss clubs. Previously there was the discovery by Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin that lottery insiders in the province had accrued $198 million in prizes over the past 13 years.
The Auditor General’s report shows further unnecessary purchases made by top executives at OLG, and discloses how millions of taxpayer dollars were being used for cars, parties, trips to the spa and even the hiring of a party planner.

OLG is classified as an “operational enterprise” which means it receives revenues from commercial activities. Profits generated from its lottery division, five casinos and 17 slot machine facilities go toward various public purposes such as health care and sports, as well as recreational and cultural activities. It also diverts $110 million annually to the Ontario Trillium Foundation to aid charitable and non-profit organizations.

Historically the OLG has had flexibility in making financial and administrative decisions. However, at the end of the day the OLG board of directors reports to the Minister of Finance who should know that when spending taxpayers’ dollars he should be doing so with the same care he would take in spending his own money.

OLG employees are expected to be prudent in their spending but McCarter’s report clearly shows the opposite. Receipts for a conference held in Toronto during 2009 showed 40 of the 90 employees reserved a room at a Toronto hotel even though they lived in the Toronto area. Eventually the rooms were cancelled but a $3,900 cancellation fee applied.
More than $1 million was spent in an 18-month period on corporate and divisional meetings, including $551,000 for a four-day gaming conference for senior employees.

The report also notes team-building meetings were held on a boat, at spas, resorts, and at an arcade entertainment complex. As well, $100,000 a year was spent on season’s tickets and corporate boxes at sporting events for retailers – not including the cost of food and drink that often went over $100 per person. The list of abuse and mismanagement goes on, including the leasing of executive vehicles for senior staff.

When you are paid with taxpayers’ money, you are in the proverbial fishbowl — rightfully so. Government employees submit expense claims that are gone over with a fine-toothed comb and detailed receipts must be provided. On the contrary, Auditor General McCarter noted OLG employee expense reports were routinely approved without receipts or explanation of the expense.

Premier McGuinty must put an end to this waste and mismanagement immediately so OLG revenues are used for original intentions like health care and the Trillium Foundation. It seems OLG employees are winning the lottery over and over without having to buy a ticket!