Milking sacred cows
Submitted by Brad Harness
Leader, Reform Ontario
First it was the scandal at eHealth Ontario over misspent public dollars, misallocated expenses monies, and inflated contracts. This resulted in resignations and firings.
Next up was the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission (OLG). More wrongdoing by the leadership with contracts and expense accounts, and that was after last year’s big blow-up over the unusually high winning ratio among the OLG’s lottery merchants. More firings and resignations.
Now we hear this week of questionable contracts at yet another Ontario agency, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), which has earned the disdain of many Ontario property owners due to incorrect property valuations that have lead to significant property tax hikes and liabilities.
To stop these complaints, MPAC has been busy hiring consultants, it seems, which is all right. But they have been renewing and extending contracts well beyond what MPAC’s own regulations allow. In a report in the Globe & Mail, MPAC’s VP of corporate services acknowledged that its own draft audit report dated May 2009 uncovered problems with the agency’s procurement practices in 2005 and 2006. He went on to insist the report – the latest – is already out of date and such practices it pinpointed have been rectified. Maybe so.
The missteps included violating the rules for consulting work, which say that contracts can only be extended from their initial term by no more than twice the value of the original contract. The audit found that agency had extended contracts from 5 to 14 times their original value.
It is good that the report in question was MPAC’s own internal audit.
It is bad that MPAC is merely the latest Ontario agency to exhibit a lack of respect for taxpayers’ dollars. Government is supposed to treat such monies as sacred trusts, not sacred cows to be milked for everything from coffee to car washes, from meals on the town to dry cleaning.
While ministers of the crown need to be called to account for such extensive and ongoing problems, it is clearly our premier, Dalton McGuinty, who is the one to be held to account overall.
Ontario has over 600 agencies, boards and commissions, each one provided with budgets from tax coffers. True, they also provide revenues back to the government: just under five per cent of provincial government revenues annually. It is only a matter of time before more such scandals are revealed. And it is a matter that seems to be important to every voter, unless you are on an agency board or in a McGuinty cabinet post.