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.

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.”