Chief executive officers of hospitals and universities will be required to post their expenses online in the latest initiative by Ontario's government to put the public sector on a shorter leash and rein in spending abuses.
The government plans to unveil legislation on Wednesday that would ban hospitals, post-secondary institutions, school boards and other publicly-funded entities from spending taxpayers' money on lobbyists. The legislation also includes new accountability measures that would require top executives in the public sector to disclose their expenses, according to government sources.
Ontario is following the federal government and other provinces in fighting budget shortfalls by introducing an era of restraint within the public sector. But Canada's largest province appears to be in the vanguard, initially with its call for a two-year wage freeze for Ontario's one million public sector workers and now with its legislation on disclosing expenses.
The legislation is a pre-emptive strike by Premier Dalton McGuinty to put an end to the latest spending controversy dogging his government. New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath revealed earlier this month that at least 14 hospitals across Ontario had hired consultants.
The legislation will be introduced the same day the provincial auditor releases a special report examining the use of consultants and lobbyists at selected hospitals.
Auditor-General Jim McCarter conducted spot audits at 16 of the province's 154 hospitals, according to sources in the health-care sector familiar with his report. Of those, Mr. McCarter found eight hospitals that spent a total of $1-million on lobbyists over the past three years, the sources said.
Hospital executives were reluctant to speak for attribution on Tuesday, saying they want to see what's in the legislation and the auditor's report before commenting.
"Tomorrow's not going to be a very popular day to be a CEO of a hospital," said one executive.
Health Minister Deb Matthews said the government deserves credit for bringing in the auditor. She said it was a legislative committee on which the government has a majority of seats that asked Mr. McCarter to do the audit.
"We are the ones who gave the AG the responsibility of going into the hospitals," she told reporters. "We knew that he would find things that needed changing, and I don't think he's going to disappoint us."
"Asking public-sector executives to publicly post expenses will introduce an unprecedented level of accountability to the public sector," said John Church, associate professor at the University of Alberta's school of public health. "Whether or not this will be workable remains to be seen."
This is the second time Mr. McCarter has looked at the role of consultants. He released a report in October, 2009, criticizing eHealth Ontario for awarding lucrative contracts to consultants without seeking competitive tenders. The eHealth spending scandal cost former health minister David Caplan his seat in cabinet.
At the time, Mr. McGuinty responded by ordering the province's far-flung network of 615 agencies, boards and commissions to adopt the public service's rules for travel and entertainment. He also gave the province's Integrity Commissioner responsibility for approving the expenses of 21 of the largest entities, making them subject to the same oversight as cabinet ministers and their staff. Executives in these 21 entities must also publish their expenses online.
Mr. McGuinty is now widening the net to capture the broader public sector. The legislation will also include more stringent measures governing expenses and the procurement of goods and services. If hospital executives do not follow the rules, the legislation would give the government the power to cut their compensation, said a senior government source.
Duncan Sinclair, professor emeritus and former dean of medicine at Queen's University, who led a restructuring of Ontario's health care services in the 1990s, said he does not know of any other jurisdiction in Canada that has legislation requiring hospital executives and others to post their expense accounts online.
Executives of hospitals and universities in Ontario already disclose their salaries under rules that capture every public sector worker who earns more than $100,000 a year.
With a report from Adrian Morrow