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Commentary on maladministration at all levels of government

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Ontario Liberals do not deserve party status

The Ontario provincial election was quite the roller coaster. Fortunately, it had a happy ending of tossing the Liberals to the curb. It will take a lot more than four years of Tory rule to undo the deep damage caused to the economy and the middle class. The skyrocketing hydro bills alone will likely take decades to bring under control.

There are three Liberals that “we’re sorry, not sorry” to see gone, to use ex-premier Kathleen Wynne’s losing election line.

First, former finance minister Charles Sousa. He’s the first finance minister to blatantly ignore the Auditor General’s review of our financial books. Sousa even seemed to relish tabling unaudited financial statements. “Oh, it’s just a little math misunderstanding,” was the government’s position. What’s the point of having an Auditor General when you ignore or even personally attack her? That’s where the Liberals had come to – sheer arrogance.

Second, former Attorney General Yasir Naqvi likely ranks as the worst AG in Ontario history. He was rumoured to have leadership ambitions but was all sizzle, no steak.

It was a humiliating defeat for Naqvi who’s always on campaign mode to be defeated by Joel Harden who’s advocated a $150/tonne carbon tax, which would be the largest in the world.

The one thing Naqvi gets partial credit for is the reform of the Police Services Act allowing more powers to Chiefs to discipline their cops and modernizing the Special Investigations Unit, among other things. But in a last-minute backroom deal cut with Chiefs of police as his bill was being studied in committee, he ordered his Liberal cronies on the committee to carve out an exception that the SIU not be notified in cases where someone died as a result of police administrating Naxolone in opioid incidents. So, police investigate police when someone dies in their presence, which goes against one of the pillars of SIU’s existence. No doubt Naqvi thought this would endear him to the police. Not a chance.

Third, Wynne resigned as Leader of the Liberals but retains her seat without official party status. She’s not quite gone, unfortunately. She’ll have to hand over the limo keys and continue her life as a mere mortal. Many pundits, including me, warned her many months ago that if she really cared for the Liberal party she should step aside. But no, Wynne’s gargantuan ego came first. It’s as if Wynne was always trying to prove something. In one of her farcical election ads, she claimed to get up at 5am to run and would obsess with making our lives better. It wasn’t clear if the point she was trying to make was that, contrary to most of us, she gets up at 5am to run and how great she was, or that she was preoccupied with our welfare before the sun rises.

Knowing Wynne, she’s likely already plotting some kind of comeback.

In 2003 when the Liberals beat out the Tories, the NDP were left with non-party status with 7 seats. NDP Leader Horwath pleaded with Premier Dalton McGuinty to lower the threshold test so she could get that much needed status which includes funding and more prominence at the Legislature. McGuinty refused. Premier-elect Doug Ford should do the same when Wynne comes groveling with the same demand. We’ve had enough of Liberals in the last 15 years.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

LHINS just like tribbles

A line-by-line review of Ontario expenditures to find efficiencies, as promised by Progressive Conservative Doug Ford, would undoubtedly yield positive results. But if he wants to start his review with a bang, here’s an idea: abolish the awkwardly named LHINs.

You could easily be forgiven for not knowing what a LHIN is. It stands for Local Health Integrated Networks. They are fourteen independent behemoth bureaucracies created by the Liberals in 2004 – complete with fourteen CEOs making each about $300,000 a year with their own boards and loaded with bureaucrats. They mostly operate in the shadows.

And they gobble up $100 million a year of our health care money. That’s no chump change.

They were ostensibly created by the Liberals to distribute bags of money on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and decide where they should land. They were touted as heralding a new era in community health care. It was all about making health care decisions locally and making them accountable.

When I was Ontario’s Ombudsman I investigated the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant LHIN in a report called The LHIN Spin – and what a spin I found.

LHINs, by law, are supposed to hold public meetings to get community input on local health decisions, subject to very limited exceptions. Instead of holding mandated public meetings, the LHIN I was investigating was having clandestine, secret meetings under the exception of “education.” The education exception was meant to cover things such as IT training and such. It would be nonsensical to force an organization to hold these sessions in a public meeting.

In essence, they were abdicating their role of conducting public consultation.

This LHIN was an elitist little bunch. Rather than consulting and making tough decisions on where funding would go, what they were effectively doing was insulating the Liberals from accountability. The Liberals simply washed their hands of any controversy by deflecting it on the LHINs.

One board member told me that sure, he consulted – with his pals at the local golf club, in shopping centres and in line for groceries in creating a dedicated children’s hospital. So, if you couldn’t afford a membership at his golf club, you were out of luck unless you stalked the local shops and hope to bump into him.

This LHIN even had the nerve to fight me on this one trying to justify their conduct until the Health Ministry told them to smarten-up.

I say kill the LHINs, return $100 million to frontline staff, like doctors and nurses and return accountability where it belongs – to Queen’s Park.

Dr. Kulvinder Gill, President of Concerned Ontario Doctors pulls no punches when it comes to LHINs. She emailed me: “Wynne’s government has rewarded (the LHINs’) incompetence by creating more vast layers of bureaucracy – nearly a hundred new regional sub-LHINs. It is appalling that for a healthcare system in crisis, there are more bureaucrats than family doctors on deck; no bureaucrat has ever saved a human life, but this bureaucratic bloat has certainly helped the government ration patient care and avoid accountability.”

So, it appears that the inefficient LHINs have multiplied just like tribbles in Star Trek movies. What a terrific opportunity to find efficiencies.

She pleads, much like Ford, that front-line caregivers should be consulted on replacing the LHIN model: “It is time for Ontario to abolish the LHINs strangling our healthcare system and finally reform our broken system by working with those who have an intimate knowledge of our crisis and are able to provide tangible solutions – our province’s frontline physicians.”

We should also look at other provinces that have regional models that directly govern or provide health services. The current model was doomed to fail from the get-go.
Just another Liberal boondoggle.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Wynne took herself and the Liberal party down

The Onion.

The opening words are from Premier Kathleen Wynne: “I can do better.” It reminds me of a mediocre high school student who’s about to get his rejection letter from a university or college and thinks that that strategy will avoid the inevitable result. Wynne’s done, and she knows it.

The ad continues: “How I make life better for you. That’s what I think about when I get up to run at 5 in the morning.” Sure, she obsesses with making our lives better every single second she’s awake. Now let’s try to reconcile that in a moment with selling the provincial money-making utility Hydro One to the private sector. Or let’s try squaring that with making us pay one of the highest electricity rates in North America.

I can’t help to think there’s a tinge of vainglorious Kathleen in that line: “Look at me! I get up to run at 5 in the morning! That’s how great I am!”

After all, for the last four years, it’s all been about Kathleen Wynne and her ego. How else to explain her not getting the message to move on after many months stuck in public approval ratings hovering between 11 and 18 per cent.

To put the numbers in perspective, the American media were all over U.S. President Donald Trump’s drop in approval ratings last week. Newsweek reported that “Trump remained quite unpopular,” pegging his approval rating at 37 per cent. That’s more than three times the popularity of Wynne.

It’s rich of her in the ad to also say that “government isn’t about winning power.” Wynne’s so drunk on power that it’s clouded her judgment that it was time to pack it in a long time ago. Even former Premier Dalton McGuinty knew when to fold it. It saved the Liberal brand.

Wynne put herself above party. Her face stamped on every move the government makes. Now she’s not only toxic to herself, but she’s bringing down the whole Liberal party.

How toxic has Wynne become? Her pal selfie-loving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants nothing to do with her. No returning of Wynne’s 2015 gift where she declared war on then Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservatives and campaigned aggressively and openly for Trudeau.

Wynne’s very own candidates have been frosty towards her. A Windsor Liberal candidate, Rino Bortolin, has refused Wynne’s offer to campaign in the riding. She’s persona non grata, because according to Bortolin, “the focus is my brand.” And Bortolin is not the only one to give cold shoulder to Wynne.

Other candidates are not even using the word “Liberal” on their signs. Why bother running for election if you’re so embarrassed of your political affiliation?

In what would be a stunning and embarrassing upset, a recent Forum Research Poll found that Wynne may be fighting for her political life in her own riding, a traditional Liberal seat. Wynne has been representing Don Valley West since 2003. Back in the 2014, the Liberals easily won hands down 57 per cent of the vote vs 31 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives.

Wynne is surrounded by very experienced political advisors. Unless they started drinking her Kool-Aid, it’s hard to think they wouldn’t have told her over the last year that she should leave with dignity and for the sake of the party. At the rate this is going, I’d be surprised if you wouldn’t be able to count winning Liberals with one hand.

On June 8, the day after the election, Wynne will be able to lace-up, go for a run and ponder how she squandered the opportunity to make life better for us.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Preem ignored good advice

Three years ago, in my final report called In the Dark, I found maladministration that I had never before seen in a public body in my over two decades of overseeing municipal, provincial and federal bureaucracies.

Hydro One was a complete mess.

It had issued faulty bills to over 100,000 customers, mostly grossly overbilling them. To add insult to injury, they had lied to government and regulators about billing errors to cover their tracks.

At the time, I said: “They obstructed, and lied to, the Minister of Energy’s office when they asked questions, the board of directors and the Ontario Energy Board. Trying to deal with Hydro One math is like trying to pin down a kangaroo on a trampoline.”

Furthermore, I observed: “Like a lot of huge, monopolistic organizations, Hydro One lost sight of its duty to the public. It was so focused on the technical side of its new system, it failed to consider the impact it was having on customers.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne said all would change under privatization, just like magic, so independent officers of parliament were no longer needed. I urged her to reconsider – but to no avail.

“To think that removing the Ombudsman and privatizing it – all these problems will go away – is a little bit like living in a fool’s paradise,” I said. Wynne unwisely and stubbornly pushed through her omnibus bill, freeing Hydro One from answering to outsiders.

The only recommendation that was rejected in my report was not to remove Ombudsman oversight. I knew full well she’d poo-poo on my recommendation but made it anyways for the sake of posterity, so the record would reflect she was knowingly acting against an obvious solution. I knew Hydro One would continue its bad behaviour but wanted it documented that the recipe Wynne proposed would be at least partially responsible.

But Wynne was adamant and living in a dream world: “I am confident that the company will be better run because that, again, is another part of this process. It is going to be a different entity. It’s going to have different controls on it.”

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli went ever further, public oversight “is not a practical solution … that would not be friendly to the securities sector.”

And today is my time to tell them both “I told you so.”

Hydro One has quickly become the hot button issue of the 2018 election. And for good reason.

The tall foreheads at Hydro One, from the CEO to all members of the Board of Directors gave themselves hefty pay increases.

So-called “hydro experts” don’t see that as a problem because they run a billion-dollar industry and their pay cheque has minimal impact on your hydro bills. Sorry but this misses the point.

The hydro file is a fiasco that’ll likely take decades to fix. There’s no magical wand that will fix it overnight. Sure, the energy grid needed upgrading, but what Wynne’s Liberals have done under the guise of fixing it was pure incompetence.

And now the current Hydro One management is backslapping each other on how great a job they’re doing while there’s no end to the misery of Ontario paying one of the highest hydro bills in North America.

Don’t take it from me. Hydro One stock has plummeted from a high of almost $24 less than a year ago to $19, which says a lot about shareholders’ confidence in its operations.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Ontarians need Ford to flip the switch

Hydro is top of mind during this provincial election, and for good reason. Green energy, overcharging consumers and high salaries to hydro executives dominate headlines. It’s a combination that makes for an explosive issue.

One of the excuses given for paying skyrocketing salaries to hydro official is that it’s a complicated job where special and exacting skills are required to run the business. Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford has even dubbed Hydro One “the six-million-dollar man,” for drawing a paycheque of $6.2-million.

In my last report as Ontario’s Ombudsman called In the Dark, released almost 3 years to this date, I found wildly egregious errors in Hydro One’s billing practices as well as a culture of complacency when it came to customer service. Hydro One is the most complained of government body since the creation of the Ombudsman’s office. An unprecedented 10,565 people came forward with all types of issues, including overbilling.

One corporate customer, for example, was billed $15 million instead of $4,034.47. In one of the most extreme examples, Garrison Petawawa received a whoppingly incorrect bill to the tune of $50,751,518.05.

The report was a wake-up call not only to Hydro One, but to all hydro companies in Ontario. Stop milking the unsuspecting taxpayer!

But we’ll never see such damning reports again because the Premier Kathleen Wynne government removed Hydro One from the oversight of all officers of parliament. Shoot the messengers of bad news and bad news goes away.

Did the high-priced hydro people listen to the message in the report to clean-up their act? Not according to Jeremy Poteck, once described as the hydro bill whisperer by former Sun columnist Christina Blizzard.

Poteck founded Poteck Power to hunt down errors in hydro bills once he read my report.

Poteck offers a free audit and charges on contingency. According to him, he has since recovered over $22 million in refunds from auditing businesses, hotels, not-for-profit organizations and the broader public service, such as universities and hospitals. That’s no chump change.

Who knows how much more money may be lurking out there that belongs in these institutions’ pockets?

On Friday, Poteck issued a press release in which he stated: “The time is now for companies and organizations to take back the money that is owed to them as a result of hydro billing errors. A refund that’s available today under the current government may no longer be available after June 7.”

Poteck says he recently recovered $276,000 in refunds for a single Toronto hotel.

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford is likely to be the next Ontario Premier after the June election. He has not minced words about making heads roll at Hydro One. Ford’s next step will no doubt be to take measures to put in top staff concerned with improving customer service at Hydro One and in improving billing practices.

Poteck’s message could pretty well be summed-up as “get it while” you can. The hydro gravy train is about to end. And that’s a good thing.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

We expected more from Liberal speaker MPP Levac

Outgoing Liberal MPP and Ontario Legislative Assembly Speaker Dave Levac gave a sort of exit interview to a friendly media outlet last week. Departing from his supposed role as neutral parliamentary arbiter, he went too political and missed an opportunity to contribute to improving the workings of parliament.

Levac ‘s pearls of wisdom on how to improve democracy was more a critique on the inconvenience of democracy itself. It reminded me of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s quip that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

He lamented how much the Premier and Leader of the Opposition control MPPs. Levac said: “We whip that out of them: ‘No, no, no, you just follow the party line and do what you’re told.’”

Our Westminster parliamentary system may be flawed and have room for improvement but nothing Levac advanced would fix things.

Levac’s four proposals to “improve democracy” are weak. In fact, they’d be a step back. Let’s have a look at them.

First, reduce the time for question period. How does it help the democratic process to cut back on the opposition party to hold government’s feet to the fire?

Second, holding a premier’s question period to once a week. Already the province has no question period on Fridays. So, we should have let Premier Kathleen Wynne off the hook from answering questions 75 per cent of the time? Good for Wynne, bad for the rest of us.

Third, curb theatrics and improve decorum in parliament. This has been suggested for decades, but never achieved. It’s the very nature of partisan politics. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to do the same as part of his “sunny ways” pitch. Yet the House of Commons has never been rowdier. Remember the “elbow incident” where Trudeau had to apologize for elbowing NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in a scuffle on the floor of the commons?

Fourth and weakest of his ideas: reducing the powers of officers of parliament by strengthening the role of MPPs. I’m all for strengthening the role of MPPs, which can be done without reducing the scope of oversight bodies.

Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser was up against that same kind of mindset of overstepping her boundaries more than a decade ago. But history already has elevated her to an almost cult status for her work on the federal sponsorship scandal.

And without Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, we’d never have known how the government schemed to politically cook the books by billions of dollars before an election, duping voters about the state of our provincial finances.

Removing or reducing oversight means more opportunity for governments to play with our money without accountability mechanisms. Hardly a measure to bolster democracy.

And Levac couldn’t resist taking an apparent shot at Lysyk, saying about her: “There are people that question certain things that are being done and certain battles that are going on. It is very easy to create a ‘gotta get you,’ or a “gotcha moment,’ for any government.” That’s why MPPs need auditor’s reports that can be relied upon as “factual, that have merit.”

Spoken like a true Liberal.

Levac is retiring from his job. Regrettably, he could have chosen to be magnanimous and taken the high road. And with his many years of experience, you would have thought he could come up with something more meaningful and concrete.

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