The auditor general’s powers have been broken, not improved, now that the Liberals have enacted an omnibus budget bill
The Ontario government has reneged on a key election promise to restore the auditor general’s oversight of taxpayer-funded ads.
Ontario premier defends cancellation of gas plants in letter to PM Read more
In an open letter to constituents published by the Globe and Mail on Friday, Premier Doug Ford acknowledged that the previous Liberal government had altered the law to prevent the auditor general from reviewing private sector ads – a requirement laid out in the province’s public accounts act.
Ford said in the letter that the government “appreciates” the need for all parties to consult about the constitutionality of ad review, but was forced to act independently because the process “took place before the plan for review of taxpayer-funded political ads went forward”.
The previous PC government made similar promises before each election and every one was broken. For instance, in the previous budget bill, the Liberals amended the act to remove the auditor general’s oversight of government ads deemed to be commercial in nature. That included adverts funded by the Ontario Power Authority – formerly known as Ontario Hydro.
Critics argued that the government’s ads, which touted the benefits of the cancelled gas plants, weren’t subject to oversight. Ontario’s auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, had previously identified no conflicts of interest in the ads.
Until now, Ford has held to the line on campaign promises. He has said he would scrap the cap-and-trade carbon tax but hasn’t pushed through his promise to amend the act to prevent provincial non-profits from expanding their own social assistance programs.
Ford also appeared to make clear Thursday that he was not prepared to reverse the contract cancellation scandals involving power plants in Mississauga and Oakville.
It had been widely reported earlier this week that he would cancel the contracts to build new hospital towers, built at a cost of nearly $1bn, to shore up his relationship with constituents, who recently complained they were skeptical that renovations to existing facilities were worth the cost.
“If Premier Ford has absolutely no intention of reducing the number of politicians who will have primary day jobs, his statement to me today is obviously a sign that there will not be another move on this front,” an official from the group United to End Politics of Wealth Inequality said in a statement.
Ford is currently in the midst of campaigning for the 30 November municipal elections, in which former mayor Rob Ford is running for alderman in Toronto. The sister of Doug Ford was also named to Ford’s staff on Friday.
Ford’s father, former Ontario premier Rob Ford, had made similar claims about placing caps on government spending only to reverse course when elected mayor of Toronto.
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John Wright, vice-president of the polling firm Ipsos, said the issue of public spending is a good fit for Ford: “He just reminds me of a Donald Trump. There is a real sense that the province has a cost problem and that the government is living beyond its means.”
Ontario’s opposition leaders gave the government’s action on ad review short shrift. NDP finance critic Peter Tabuns described the action as “so lame, even Doug Ford’s having to admit it”.
Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne said it “was just politics as usual” but was “a true charade because there is nothing new, nothing ethical, nothing honest to report”.