Do numbers – especially government numbers – lie?
One of two audits ordered by Premier Doug Ford’s ministers this week is supposed to settle a long-standing dispute as to the true state of Ontario’s finances.
A second line-by-line budget audit is expected to come with a path back to balanced books by offering up savings or cuts, depending on one’s point of view.
Peter Bethlenfalvy, president of the Treasury Board, said the line-by-line audit will provide an “open, thorough and transparent” look at all the ways the government spends money.
“All provincial programs, including provincial agencies and transfer payment programs are within the scope of the review,” Bethlenfalvy said. “The results of the line-by-line review will be used to develop a responsible plan to achieve efficiencies and deliver results for taxpayers.”
What: Independent Financial Commission will examine Ontario’s public financing and government accounting practices, hopefully settling a dispute with Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk who says the previous Kathleen Wynne government’s treatment of pension funds and its Fair Hydro Plan was an accounting no-no and understated this year’s annual operating deficit by $5 billion. The Commission will also look back over 15 years of Liberal government spending practices.
Who: Former BC premier Gordon Campbell, auditor Al Rosen and senior fiscal adviser Michael Horgan will head up the commission.
How much: $50,000 each
When: Report due August 30
Why: It settles a dispute with the Ontario Auditor General, gives Ontarians a clear look at the numbers and acts as a political shield if the Ford government produces unattractive numbers in its upcoming fall economic statement. It also follows in the great tradition of auditing other party’s government books to have someone else to blame and to inflict long-term political damage on an opponent when fiscal skeletons are uncloseted.
What: External line-by-line audit will go over the provincial government’s $150 billion budget and broader public sector for ways to save money and to make “improvements” to services and programs.
Who: Currently seeking bids from outside consultants.
How much: Contract has ceiling of $500,000
When: Once contract awarded, winner will have two months with an option of another two months to complete work.
Why: Doug and Rob Ford, when on Toronto City Council, used a similar audit to find savings. Ford has promised to balance the province’s books in year three or year four of his government, and that will require finding efficiencies or making cuts. This process is supposed to give them some good places to look for those savings.