The Leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives says he’ll call for an independent inquiry into spending by Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government if he wins power in June, a move that comes as both parties allege that their opponent is fiscally irresponsible.
Doug Ford’s pledge of a probe into spending, to be accompanied by a previously promised full audit of the government, comes a day after Ontario’s Auditor-General reported that the province’s Liberal government has understated this year’s budget deficit and future shortfalls by billions of dollars.
“We know this audit isn’t business as usual and it won’t be,” Mr. Ford told reporters on Thursday. “I think the people of Ontario, under our government, will be shocked at the scandals we’re going to find out.”
Ontario’s Liberal government and Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk have had a long-running dispute over the province’s books. On Wednesday, in a review of a pre-election report the Ontario government is required to submit, Ms. Lysyk said the province’s deficit this year should be forecast at $11.7-billion, nearly 75 per cent higher than the government’s estimate of $6.7-billion.
The difference between the two numbers is owing to a disagreement between Ms. Lysyk’s office and the government over how to account for the province’s plan to lower hydro rates and how certain pension assets appear in financial statements.
The government has moved billions of dollars in borrowing needed to lower electricity bills off the books through a financing plan struck with the province’s main electrical bodies. Ms. Lysyk contends that the spending should appear in the budget.
According to the Auditor-General, the province’s books are “not a reasonable presentation of Ontario’s finances.” She warned that future politicians could plan to spend money needed to pay off hydro debt, and its resulting interest, because the government has kept the figures off the budget.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa dismissed Mr. Ford’s criticism and said the Auditor-General’s comments amounted to a “disagreement between the accountants.” He added that it would be difficult for Mr. Ford to staff his independent inquiry because three of the largest accounting firms in the country − KPMG, Deloitte and E&Y − have worked on the hydro plan.
The Finance Minister said Mr. Ford’s promise was a waste of money. “We have an independent auditor and now Mr. Ford is suggesting we audit the auditor. She’s already done her job,” Mr. Sousa said.
Mr. Sousa’s criticism was echoed by New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, who said that politicians need to respect the Auditor-General and the province’s other independent officers. “I don’t know what [Mr. Ford’s] intentions are at all, but what I can say is that I think we have the people in place that are doing the job that needs to be done on behalf of Ontarians,” she said.
While Mr. Ford couldn’t say how much his audit and independent inquiry would cost, he said it is “going to be the best investment the province has ever seen.”
While the Tories are presenting themselves as the more fiscally responsible alternative to the government, MPP and Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews said Mr. Ford’s plans are not prudent. “I think it’s really important in this election that people see what he’s actually putting on the table,” she said. “He’s going to have to make very substantial cuts that will be disastrous, and I use that word carefully, to our health-care system and to our education system.”
Mr. Ford said on Thursday that his party will present a fully costed plan before the election, expect on June 7. While he said he would not be able to eliminate the deficit in his first year as premier, he vowed to move in a “modest and responsible fashion.”