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Ontario undermining its own restraint efforts, auditor’s report reveals Add to ...

The Ontario government has paid richer fees to family doctors, with little proof patients are getting more access to their services. The government fast-tracked its flagship green energy projects without putting in place appropriate checks and balances.

Both policies are leading to higher health care and electricity costs in Ontario, but the bad news does not end there, according to the provincial auditor. Consumers also pay too much to drown their sorrows. That’s because the Crown corporation with a near monopoly on wine and liquor sales in Ontario does not use its buying clout to negotiate better prices.

These are among the key findings in Auditor-General Jim McCarter’s annual report, released on Monday. The report reveals that the government is undermining its efforts to impose an era of restraint, because of rushed and poorly executed policies. Ontario is also missing an opportunity to enrich its coffers through more profitable wine and liquor sales.

The auditor’s report provided fresh fodder for opposition members, who attacked the government’s stewardship of the province’s finances.

“They don’t get the reality that families and businesses are facing,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak. “Nor do they seem to understand that part of government isn’t just throwing money at things. It’s getting results for taxpayers.”

Here are three areas where the auditor found the government came up short:

NEW FEE MODEL FOR DOCTORS:

More than 7,500 of the 12,000 family physicians in Ontario are paid an annual flat fee in return for providing services to patients enrolled with them. These doctors earned on average 25 per cent more in 2008 than their counterparts who were paid through the traditional fee-for-service model.

But the government has not examined the benefits of this more expensive option, Mr. McCarter said, including whether patients wait less time to see a doctor.

“We’ve got some work ahead of us to make sure we do get the best value for money,” Health Minister Deb Matthews acknowledged. “I want Ontario’s doctors to be very well compensated, but they have to provide the kind of care we expect of them.”

GREEN ENERGY:

The government’s cornerstone green energy policies are supposed to transform the province into a renewable energy powerhouse. But the auditor questioned the government’s assertion that it will create 50,000 jobs, saying 30,000 of them will be temporary construction positions.

The auditor said billions of dollars in wind and solar energy projects were approved without appropriate oversight. “While this helped these projects get off the ground quickly,” Mr. McCarter told reporters, “their high cost will add significantly to ratepayers’ electricity bills in the future.”

He singled out the $7-billion deal with South Korean industrial giant Samsung Group, saying it was done with “no formal economic analysis” to determine whether it was prudent.

“There’s nothing wrong with a construction job,” Energy Minister Chris Bentley said in an interview. “That feeds a family.”

LIQUOR CONTROL BOARD OF ONTARIO:

The LCBO has the lowest prices in Canada, Mr. McCarter said. But he said he cannot understand why one of the world’s biggest purchasers of alcohol doesn’t use its buying power to negotiate the lowest possible prices. Instead, the LCBO focuses on the retail prices it wants to charge and suppliers raise or lower their wholesale prices accordingly.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan suggested to reporters he is open to looking at ways to maximize the government’s profit. In fiscal 2011, the LCBO paid $1.55-billion in dividends to the province.

“I think it’s a valid concern,” Mr. Duncan said. “We are getting $1.5-billion, but should we be getting $1.7-billion?”

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