Premier Doug Ford is striking a special legislative committee to examine his predecessor’s handling of Ontario’s finances, alleging that Kathleen Wynne’s actions border on the criminal and constitute the greatest “government scandal in a generation.”
The creation of the select committee, which Mr. Ford has said will be given the power to call witnesses and compel documents, comes after Ontario’s Finance Minister announced Friday that the provincial deficit has increased to $15-billion this year. Ms. Wynne’s government had estimated the shortfall before the spring election at $6.7-billion.
Much of the increase stems from a change in accounting standards – long demanded by the Auditor-General – that adjusts how the province accounts for public pension plans as well as a program to reduce hydro rates. Mr. Ford said the former government “lied” about the budget numbers and was involved in a “cover-up.”
Ms. Wynne said the years-long dispute between her government and the Auditor-General was public and disclosed in a legally required look into the province’s finances that was released before every election.
“This was quite possibly the worst political cover-up in Ontario’s history. Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals lied to all of us, and we all know that if you lie on your taxes, if you lie on your mortgage, if you lie on your car loan, there are consequences. You don’t just get to walk away,” Mr. Ford said in a speech to his caucus at Queen’s Park Monday morning.
“They used dirty accounting tricks to hide their tracks,” the Premier continued. “If you tried that, to play these dirty accounting tricks in a business, if you tried to pull that kind of cover-up in the private sector, the [Ontario Securities Commission] would come calling, the police would come calling.”
In response, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said: “If that’s what the Premier believes, he should call the police.”
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli did not answer when asked multiple times by reporters why the government would not ask the police to investigate.
Ontario’s Auditor-General and the province’s Financial Accountability Office have released public reports over the past three years that have documented the dispute over accounting practices. Those reports also looked at the former government’s decision to use American private-sector accounting standards rather than Canada’s public-sector standards to account for the billions of dollars in new debt required to reduce hydro rates.
Ms. Wynne, who still holds a seat in the legislature, said Mr. Ford was using the select committee as an excuse to allow his government to cut more public services.
“I’m the first to admit there have been disputes. There was an accounting dispute on the pension issue and there was a dispute [on hydro] – that was all talked about before the election,” said Ms. Wynne, who was premier from 2013 to 2018. “He’s going over issues that have already been in the public realm and creating an inflamed rhetoric around something that was already well known.”
She said she was disappointed Mr. Ford didn’t stop chants of “Lock her up” during a speech he gave over the weekend at a Ford family barbecue. The chant has been used repeatedly to target former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by crowds supporting U.S. President Donald Trump.
“It is just vile and unbecoming of a premier,” Ms. Wynne said of the chant. “It’s really, really disappointing to me that at an event this weekend he wouldn’t have shut that down.”
Credit-rating agency Moody’s reported Monday that Ontario’s higher deficit figure would have no impact on the province’s rating because the accounting discrepancies had been long reported. “As the Auditor-General presented the difference between the province’s accepted and recommended accounting treatments in the last two Public Accounts we had a very high level of visibility concerning the credit implications,” the agency wrote.