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Commentary on maladministration at all levels of government

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Liberals fail their own Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act

True to form, the Ontario Liberals have maintained their ongoing fight with the Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk.

It’s the classic case of “live by the sword, die by the sword.”

When freshly elected Premier Dalton McGuinty took over the reins of power in 2003, an audit he ordered found that the outgoing Progressive Conservatives had amassed a deficit of $5.6 billion, instead of the stated $3 billion.

Much outraged ensued and the Liberals passed The Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act requiring a tell-all, pre-election audit by the Auditor General so that voters never got duped again about the deficit situation.

Fast forward to 2018.

Last Wednesday the AG issued a 27-page report called “Review of the 2018 Pre-Election Report on Ontario’s Finances which sounded more like a 7-alarm fire than an audit report. According to Lysyk, this year’s budgetary shortfall is $11.7 billion, not $6.7 billion as Wynne claimed. And it gets worse. Next year’s forecast is pegged at $12.2 billion, not the $6.6 billion Finance Minister Charles Sousa promised it would be.

According to Wynne, it’s all just a little misunderstanding that they’re working through with “ongoing discussions” with the Auditor General. It’s a minor technical, accounting “difference of opinion.”

But it’s a lot more serious than that. The Wynne government has misled us on two fronts. First, on the true impact of its Fair Hydro Plan, which just like magic gave us an instant 25% reduction in hydro charges. The plan should be renamed the “Fake” Hydro Plan.

Second, the Wynne treats the public-sector plan assets that it can use as it wishes.

Call it creative accounting or cooking the books. It is unforgivable for this government to play around with financial numbers to fit its agenda. To them, it’s just a game. And we’re the losers.

To any independent observer, it’s just shocking that Wynne plainly and continually ignores independent audits and is quite telling of what she thinks of our hard-earned money. She simply doesn’t care.

Wynne has been a career, ego-driven politician who likes to play hard ball. She’s precisely why people are cynical of politicians and explains the rise of populism. She’s a gift to Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford.

Ford announced a commission of inquiry into government spending. He said: “We’re going to restore responsibility, accountability, and trust in government. Ontario deserves answers about how big (Premier) Kathleen Wynne’s mess really is.”

Given the track record of Wynne’s liberals, who can take offence to that? If Ford wins, which appear quite likely at this point, he’ll want to make sure he has a sharp eye on Ontario’s financial fiasco that’ll be him to fix.

In the meantime, let’s give McGuinty a big thanks for laying the ground work for giving us the tools to keep Wynne’s feet to the fire. It may yet be his most important legacy.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Wynne Fighting Dirty

The first Ontario Liberal attack ad is not only amateurish and nasty but it’s laden with fake news. The ad takes direct aim at Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford. It falsely claims, among other things, that he will “fire 40,000 people, including teachers and nurses.” Ford has specifically pledged that, if elected, no one will be fired.

The ad is pure fiction meant to incite panic among voters. Shortly after this class act, and not to be outdone, the Ontario Liberal Party tweeted that “Doug Ford says he ‘loves the blacks’ but wasn’t at the Town Hall tonight…Did Doug Ford deliberately choose to ignore the black community leaders debate?” Sounds pretty damning. Except, of course, he said no such thing as QP Briefing discovered.

David Clarke, executive director of the Ontario Liberal Party e-mailed QP Briefing to describe the quote that Ford “loves the blacks” an error. He wrote: “It appears the tweet accidentally referred to Doug when it should have said Trump. We’ve corrected the error and are working to ensure accuracy to re-issue it.”

But was it really an error or were they forced to apologize because they got caught in sleazy politics? The salacious and inflammatory quote has racial connotations to it and conveniently fits into Premier Kathleen Wynne’s playbook to equate Ford with Trump.

Wynne even said later in the week: “Let’s just call this for what it is – Doug Ford sounds like Donald Trump and that’s because he is like Donald Trump. He believes in (an) ugly brand of politics that traffics in smears and lies.”

It’s the classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Between Wynne’s lying attack ad and her party’s “erroneous” tweet, it’s rich of her to point the finger at Ford as one who traffics in smears and lies.

She predicted the election campaign leading to the June 7 election will be “vicious.” Her actions so far seemed determined to make it so.

Wynne appears obsessed with drawing analogies between Ford and Trump, adding she won’t be Hillary Clinton and that he “all but chanted, ‘lock her up.’” Fake news, once again. Ford never said such a thing. As Tory MPP Lisa MacLeod pointed out: “The only person bringing up that notion is Kathleen Wynne herself. She wants to make things up.”

What drew all this venom from Wynne? It’s all because Ford dared to say that if elected, he’d order an audit of the Wynne government’s spending. In an unprecedented era of Wynne tabling unaudited financial statements combined with debt-rating agency Moody’s announcement that it was downgrading Ontario’s outlook from stable to negative, Ford’s decision to have a closer look at Wynne’s spending was perfectly legitimate and reasonable.

Can you blame him? Would you blindly trust Wynne to have spent your money wisely?

Wynne’s government is a not-so-subtle way to change the narrative of 15 years of fiscal mismanagement. By attempting to portray him as Trump’s lying, racist bully twin, she’s hoping we’ll be fooled into forgetting the billions of dollars wasted on everything from green energy, gas plants and e-health. Not to mention the ballooning debt and the sale of Hydro One.

Wynne should have the courage of her conviction and at least try to stand-up for her record.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

This time the cover up is worse than the crime

If there ever was a case that exemplifies that the cover-up is worse than the crime, it’s the conviction and 4-month jail term of top Liberal operative David Livingston for proceeding with the unauthorized use of computer for wiping out emails concerning the cancellation of gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga back in 2010 and 2011 to prevent lawmakers to access them.

While Liberal pundits like to say the Liberals were “acquiescing” to opposition pressure, the real reason was to salvage a handful of Liberal seats in the 2011 elections. That decision would later cost over $1 billion according to the Auditor General, despite the Liberals’ maths that it would “only” be $230 million. At the time, former Premier Dalton McGuinty repeated his favorite corny line: “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

While Premier Kathleen Wynne managed to distance herself from the whole mess and was re-elected in 2014, her government continued the pattern of bending rules to suit her agenda. Just look at her disdain for accountability. She didn’t like the Auditor General’s financial audits, so she just ignored them. For the first time in Ontario’s history, Wynne’s Liberals tabled unaudited financial statements. Given their track record for maths and bending the truth, those figures have zero credibility.

What’s the point of having an Auditor General if you ignore her findings and those of the Financial Accountability Officer? In her Wynne’s rulebook, the good overseers are those she can use as puppets, like French Languages Commissioner François Boileau and Ombudsman-light Paul Dubé.

Thank goodness there’s one branch of government she can’t control and that’s the judiciary. Ontario court Judge Timothy Lipson, in a fair and well-worded sentencing decision said of Livingston: “His conduct was an affront to, and an attack upon, democratic institutions and values. An attempt to tamper with the democratic process requires a strong denunciatory response.” Livingston got 4 months in the slammer, 12 months’ probation and 100 hours of community service. All of which flew right over defence lawyer Brian Gover’s head who said, “there was no proof of actual harm.” As Lipson emphasized, tampering with democracy is the harm.

Even though the earlier additional charge of breach of trust was withdrawn by the Crown, Livingston’s acts, in ordinary English, were just that. How can the public have trust in someone who, by deception, obtains access to documents in order to delete them and keep them away from parliament scrutiny?

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi couldn’t resist entering the fray playing us for fools saying he’s put in rules to prevent this from happening again, which is a non sequitur. The entire prosecution was billed around the fact that not only were there rules in place, but that Livingston was even schooled on them by Ontario’s top bureaucrat Peter Wallace. He got the records by deception.

The timing of the conviction and sentence couldn’t arrive at a worse time for the Liberals and are the perfect storm for the Progressive Conservatives. People are tired of how the Liberals don’t play by the rules.

Two other things are likely keeping Wynne up at night and for good reason.

First, 11 of her MPPs have quit on her, leaving her at most with 46 incumbents. There will be lots of unknown faces on her team. It’s never good to be abandoned by so many incumbents who would have been handy in deflecting attention from the much-loathed Wynne, sitting somewhere around 17% approval rating.

Second, a recently released Global News Ipsos poll reveal people aren’t buying Wynne’s budget baloney of giving out everything for free at a cost of a huge deficit. The numbers are ugly for Wynne, putting her party third place at 27%, the New Democratic Party 28% and the PC party at 40%.

Livingston tampered with democracy. But democracy’s about to remind Liberals that it’s still real and vibrant.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Liberal MPP Bob Delaney loses bragging rights

There are some politicians in the government who get passed over and never make it to cabinet because of the necessity for premiers or the Prime Minister to achieve gender balance or geographical representation.
Then, there are other politicians who don’t get the nod because they are devoid of talent and a political time bomb ready to explode. I’m looking at you, Mississauga-Streetsville MPP Bob Delaney.
Gaffe-prone Delaney, who’s known to walk his cat Merlin on a leash at the Mississauga Santa Claus Parade (just Google his name and “Merlin” and you’ll be amused by the images), stepped in it once again on March 29.
What began as your typical political breakfast meeting selling the merits of the recent Liberal budget and playing down the huge deficit that came with it turned sour as local media challenged him. A Mississauga News reporter asked a perfectly legitimate question about the provincial debt ballooning to $400 billion when Delaney, showing no personal discipline or judgment, exploded by saying “with respect, that’s bulls—.”
He then boasted about the debt: “We have tripled (the debt) and we’re proud of it because we can afford it. It’s the responsible thing to do…It’s what the people have asked us to do and I would do it again and do it proudly.”
Liberal MPP’s Bob Delaney and Soo Wong “drag” in Liberal MPP Dave Levac as he becomes the next speaker of the house at Queens Park in Toronto, Ont. on Wednesday July 2, 2014.
I listened to the speech posted online and his comment about being proud of the debt was no doubt meant to be his Churchillian moment. It wasn’t a comment delivered under his breath. His voice rose as he leapt into great oratorical tenor wanting proudly for the audience to hang on to every word of his speech. And they did.
When, of course, that otherwise dull and drab speech turned because of his debt comments into something worth reporting, Delaney came out swinging left right and centre on Monday, denying in the media he had said any such thing.
He spread his fake news on SiriusXM where he professed to have been shocked when he read the paper the next day, adding “I had a WTF moment” when he saw the story. He also e-mailed Global: “Not only did I make no such statement, but when an individual at my Budget Breakfast in Streetsville tried several times to ascribe something like it to me, I finally emphasized my disagreement with that statement by saying, “Bulls—.”
Delaney is a not a political neophyte. He first graced the backbenches 15 years ago. How could he not think the media wouldn’t be recording his comments? But it took until Apr. 3, 2018, a full 6 days after his speech, to offer a kind of “Sorry, I got caught” apology to Mississauga News reporter Graeme Frisque.

A red-faced Delaney generously offered: “It was my recollection that was incorrect.”

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Ontario Tax Payers get hit 3 times in the finances

Ontario taxpayers got hit on the head three times last week.

First, Premier Kathleen Wynne unveiled a new round of orgy-spending in a budget clearly aimed at salvaging her Liberal party from the ashes. When our economy is rather robust and tax money is running into our coffers, Wynne spends it faster than a drunken sailor, under the pretext of “caring” for “struggling” Ontarians. If you don’t agree with her, you’re a bad person who wants to go backwards. She shamelessly trades in the politics of division while she navigates us into a $400 billion debt by 2024.

Pinocchio Finance Minister Sousa claims he needs to stimulate an already stimulated economy.

Predictably, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford wants to put the brakes on spending. He tweeted: “There is some good news in this budget for taxpayers – this will be Kathleen Wynne’s last budget! The party with the taxpayer’s money is over. To the people of Ontario I say, relief is on the way.”

But don’t take it from Ford.

The second hit came from our credit-rating agencies, those which can really impact our provincial financial position. On Thursday, Moody’s Investor Service and DBRS had sober news for Wynne. DBRS analysts said the government “demonstrates in the clearest terms that the province is not committed to disciplined…fiscal policy.”

“The province has made a deliberate decision to pursue expansionary fiscal policy potentially near the peak of the economic cycle. With interest rates set to rise, economic growth expected to moderate and program spending entrenched, eliminating the budget deficit will prove challenging in the coming years,” DBRS said. Translation: Wynne’s recklessly screwing-up our economy. And I like the way Sousa keeps saying that they’re doing it “deliberately.” It’s like saying “yes, we’re going to add $100 billion to the debt and we’re proud of sticking it to you and your future generations.”

The third hit came from the incredible news that the partially public utility Hydro One has a Chief executive, Mayo Schmidt, whose take home pay jumped from an already whopping $4.5 million to a grotesque $6.2 million. Nice job if you can get it.

Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault had no qualms offering this feeble and somewhat misleading defence: “We recognize that executive salaries are high compared to the vast majority of Ontario salaries, and we remain committed to Hydro One’s regulation, accountability and transparency. That said, Hydro One is now a publicly traded company, not a government entity, and this means it is subject to different oversight and disclosure rules. We remain confident in the role of the independent Ontario Energy Board, to regulate Hydro One’s rates and protect the interests of Ontarians.”

That statement is a nose stretcher on several fronts. Hydro One may not be 100% government but it still holds 49.9% of its shares. And the government believes so much in oversight and transparency that when Hydro One started its privatization process, it stripped it of all of the officers of parliament oversight. When you kill the messenger who brings bad news, the bad news is gone, presto.

And his argument that independent oversight and the private sector are incompatible is just plain wrong. Australia is rife with independent energy and water Ombudsmen. Thibeault points to the Ontario Energy Board as “protecting the interests of Ontario. Wrong again. While it takes and “reviews” complaints, it is a board, a quasi-judicial body and not equipped to conduct field and systemic investigations. Try complaining about Schmidt’s salary and see what happens.

When I was Ombudsman, there was never any overlap over the work I was doing and the OEB.

These are depressing financial times in Ontario. The only good news is that the June 7 election is fast approaching. Let’s hope that voters don’t get deluded into thinking that this is grandmother Wynne “caring” for us. It’s rather Wynne’s final gasp at saving her skin.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Police Unions tactics of shaming Police Chiefs

There’s a disturbing re-emerging tactic deployed by the Toronto Police Association and the Durham Regional Police Association to use surveys from their membership to demonstrate displeasure with their Chief by shaming and embarrassing them and asking for their head on a platter.

Unions, by nature, serve many roles. One of them is to grow membership and the union dues that fill their coffers. This is at odds with police services who are trying to find efficiencies and modernize how they do business. And god knows, there’s a lot of gravy in police budgets.

Who hasn’t seen a Toronto police officer standing at the most minor of construction sites, such as fixing a pot hole? Do we really want highly trained, highly paid (often well into the six digits) cops used as posts “guarding” the scene? Couldn’t a private security firm do just as well a job at a much lower cost? Should the police really be attending scenes of break and enters after the fact simply to take a report? Can’t a civilian trained to do this task also not be allowed to fill out the form in a more cost-effective way?

TPA Board of Directors proclaimed that a “no confidence vote sends a message to the Chief, our elected City leaders, and the community that our members have lost confidence in the Chief’s ability to act in the best interests of the membership and the community.”

No so fast. Although the dissatisfaction with Toronto Chief Saunders is said to be as high as 86 per cent, less than half the union membership bothered to vote. Not to be outdone, the union is playing the safety card, putting up a big billboard downtown with the grinning faces of Mayor John Tory, Saunders and police services chair Andrew Pringle screaming “these guys are putting your safety on hold.”

Former Chief Julian Fantino also faced a similar non-confidence vote during his tenure. He said: “It’s an old hat kind of thing that’s used quite often in the United States. In fact, it was born there (and) sort of transported here in Canada.” A bad import, just like the militarization of our police.

Toronto police board chair Andy Pringle rightfully backed-up Saunders, so did Tory, noting that some people are naturally resistant to change. Saunders also noted that it was an election year for the police union.

An equally hysterical reaction came from the DRPS union. 52% of the membership want Chief Paul Martin immediately removed. Problem is only 36 per cent of the membership bothered to answer the online survey. The board there also backed their Chief.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the next survey came from the Ottawa Police Association. The union has been feuding with Chief Bordeleau where union boss Matt Skof has made a point of boycotting events attended by Bordeleau. Seems childish to me.

I’ve had my disagreements with Chiefs of police in the past, most recently in this space on their position not to notify the Special Investigations Unit in case of unsuccessful Naxalone interventions leading to serious injury or death.

On the need to modernize and find efficiencies in how police operate, they’ve got my vote. Instead of bringing bad practices of police forces south of the border, unions should realize that their conduct brings into disrepute the enforcement of the law. They are only embarrassing themselves.

As Lord Robert Peel, the father of modern policing once said: “The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.” So, get to it.