Lack of transparency / accountability in Ontario generates new law

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Over the past 11 years, we’ve seen the government enrage Ontarians with high-profile scandals – most recently the MaRS building, Ornge, gas plants, Caledonia, and going back to OLG and eHealth.  Now, Premier Wynne has initiated new transparency and accountability laws across government to once and for all attempt to shed the baggage being carried around by her administration.

Bill 8, Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act was reintroduced this fall by Deb Matthews who is now the President of the Treasury Board.  But Matthews, is the former health minister who presided over the Ornge air ambulance scandal which cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and is linked to about a dozen deaths.  While some may say Bill 8 is the best attempt yet at accountability and transparency from this government, others know this is show and sham politics at its best.

At the height of the Ornge scandal, my colleagues and I called for Minister Matthews’ resignation on multiple occasions and then again as recently as last week.  Rather than being removed from cabinet as is customary under Ontario’s system of responsible government, Minister Matthews was reassigned to another position.

As a member of the Public Accounts committee looking into Ornge, I helped author a report that concluded mismanagement, lack of oversight and systemic operational matters created the financial and deadly mess.  Questionable procedures were consistently flagged with the ministry, all the way to the minister’s office, yet all warnings were ignored.  We were prevented from releasing our report before the election – for obvious reasons – and only last week did it see the light of day.

It is now incumbent on the Ontario Government to take action on our committee’s report to provide direction to every ministry and transfer agency.  Hundreds of thousands of precious health care dollars have been lost, as well as too many lives.

With respect to lack of transparency and accountability, consider also the $1.1-billion seat saver scandal – the cancellation of two Toronto-area gas plants before the 2011 election.  The government wants the investigation into this matter to wrap up, despite the fact the OPP have been called in after allegations the Premier’s office used military-grade software to wipe computers clean.

Similarly, I’ve been asking for the past few years whether or not we have an eHealth system in Ontario.  Remember the provincial agency that was given a $1-billion budget to develop health records?  Instead they failed to tender contracts, doled out money to high cost consultants – some making upwards of $3,000 a day — who then turned around and billed us for outrageous expenses.  In 2009, the Auditor General Jim McCarter wrote a scathing 50-page report saying eHealth was rife with favourtism and had little to show.

Sadly for taxpayers, the list goes on – MaRS, Caledonia, OLG, the McGuinty slush fund – and money isn’t the only thing wasted but also countless hours spent attempting to cover up wrong-doings.

And we can look forward to the 2015 PanAm Games.  We already know the $1.4-billion budget excludes some key expenses, such as the athletes’ village pegged at $700 million.

So, at the end of the day we can pass all the laws we want in the Ontario Legislature, but if the government isn’t willing to hold themselves responsible and uphold the law, the legislation is not worth the paper it’s written on.

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Toby Barrett is a Progressive Conservative member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario representing the district of Haldimand—Norfolk.  Follow Toby Barrett on twitter: @TobyBarrettMPP

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