The province’s auditor general released her annual report on the public sector on Wednesday.
A number of subjects were probed this time, including car insurance, flooding risks and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
“While most of the time sound decisions do get made, decision-makers in the public realm have, on occasion, lost focus of the goal of maximizing the effective use of taxpayer money to provide the best services possible for the people of Ontario,” said Bonnie Lysyk. “Faced with a growing torrent of outside pressures, including changing economic circumstances, decision-makers in public-sector and broader-public-sector organizations can become prone to making decisions based on short-term rather than long-term considerations and without the benefit of good information.”
“The value-for-money audits my office conducts each year are important,” she added. “They help hold the decision-makers and the managers of tax-payer money accountable for financial responsibility and transparency in public reporting.”
COVID-19 vaccination campaign
- Ontario’s vaccine rollout was not always equitable. In early 2021, 114 ‘hotspot’ communities received vaccines in advance. However, the province’s prioritization methods were not consistently applied, leading to eight lower-risk neighbourhoods getting vaccines ahead of higher-risk neighbourhoods.
- Ontarians had to scramble between a plethora of vaccine booking systems, including those run by the province, municipal governments, hospitals, pharmacies and private companies. This led to some people registering for multiple appointments. There were around 227,000 no-show appointments in 2021 that could have been filled.
- From the start of the vaccination campaign to June 2022, about nine per cent of vaccine doses were wasted – about 3.4-million doses.
- About 38 per cent of vaccines were wasted between February and June 2022, due to the demand for boosters not being as high as expected. One of the private-sector groups contracted by the province wasted 57 per cent of its vaccines between May 2021 and May 2022 (the reasons have not yet been determined).
- The auditor general also published information on individual regions. In Durham Region, about five per cent of doses were wasted between December 2020 and June 2022, which was on par with Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Region.
- In fall 2021, the Ministry of Health opted not to put out a vaccine mandate for hospital workers, despite input from the science table and groups representing hospitals and nurses.
- The auditor general argues the province did not consistently communicate the important of vaccines, and did not do enough to dispel misinformation regarding the Moderna shot.
- Doctors received $170 to $220 per hour to administer vaccines at public sites, compared to nurses who received $32 to $49 per hour. Pharmacists received $30 to $57 per hour. The auditor general also noticed a difference in pay between those hired by private-sector operators and those hired by non-for-profit operators.
- The province spent $144-million on a vaccine record database called COVaxON. However, there were plans in 2014 to expand an already-existing database called Panorama to track the vaccine histories of all Ontarians. That objective had not been reached by 2020, despite another $170-million being spent on that project since 2010.
Procurement of services during the pandemic
- About $66-million of personal protective equipment (PPE) expired, was damaged or became obsolete by March 31, 2022.
- Ontario is expecting more than 100-million N95 respirators by March 2030, worth $81-million.
- Around $32.3-million was given to private companies for mobile COVID-19 testing services. About $18.7-million of that went to testing sites that were often underused due to poor coordination by officials. The auditor general was able to uncover 105 instances of vendors being paid for overhead costs despite not testing anyone that day (wasting around $800,000 in total).
- The province signed around 600 contracts for various pandemic initiatives, totalling around $7-billion. Around $3.5-billion of those funds were sped up, with contracts being signed without any competition. The province argued it would speed up the delivery of important services.
- The Ministry of Health did not ask large organizations for an employee count before sending over large numbers of rapid antigen tests.
Flooding and the environment
- In large and medium-sized urban centres, the amount of land taken up by green spaces (including wetlands, woodlands and meadows) is declining. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of green area has declined by 94 per cent, despite the role they play in mitigating floods.
- Nearly half of the remaining wetlands in southern Ontario have not been evaluated for their importance. This means they could be developed without anyone knowing if they play a vital role in preventing floods in their area.
- Many municipalities were unable to accurately map the locations of their flood risk areas, partially because they did not have enough data to work with.
- Ontario’s regulated list of invasive species has only been updated once in the last seven years, when 12 species were added in January 2022.
- Ontario is not tracking 33 other invasive species that are considered high-risk in other jurisdictions.
- Conservation officers are not doing enough work to enforce the Invasive Species Act. As of March 31, 2022, officers have issued no charges or warrants under the act. They have only issued 11 warnings.
- The province spends only $4-million annually on fighting invasive species. The economic impacts on Ontario’s agriculture, forestry, fishing and other industries are believed to total around $3.6-billion a year.
- Harmful invasive plants are not regulated properly. Officials were able to find six species on sale at garden stores.
- Only 19 per cent of Ontario’s 27,000 oil and gas wells have been inspected by the Ministry of Natural Resources since 2005.
- Between 2017 and 2021, it took more than four hours to send fire crews to 15 per cent of the 3,873 forest fires that needed a response.
Roads and drivers
- Ontarians pay the highest premiums for auto insurance in Canada. The average premium rose by almost 14 per cent between 2017 and 2021.
- The auditor general was able to get a number of insurance quotes for the same person, changing only their address each time. Rates varied drastically; a quote for someone in Brampton was nearly three times as high as a quote for that same person in London.
- The government did not follow its own guidelines when making a business case for removing tolls on Highways 412 and 418, and for removing licence plate sticker fees. The government typically follows a process when making decisions that impact the province’s finances.
- The government has prioritized four highway expansion projects that would not have been recommended, at least for that particular time, by experts at the Ministry of Transportation. This includes Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass.
- The province hired a firm to send mystery shoppers into a number of casinos, and see if they could get away with laundering money. At two of the casinos, mystery shoppers were able to convert their own money into casino cheques ranging from $4,900 to $10,750, after playing briefly and winning nothing.
- Between 2015 and 2021, Ontario Power Generation only managed to use around 50 per cent of its hydroelectric generating capacity. In 2021 alone, OPG could have generated enough electricity to power an extra 540,000 households.
- Between 2019 and 2022, about 33 per cent of the LCBO’s information technology workers were consultants on contract. Consultants consistently earned more than permanent workers, occasionally twice as much.
- Since university tuitions were reduced and frozen in 2019, schools have had to increase their focus on international students, who pay higher tuitions. The auditor general argued that a school could wind up at financial risk if geopolitical events lower the number of students from certain countries.
- The Real Estate Council of Ontario does not have a policy to inspect each registered brokerage within a set time frame. As such, 27 per cent of registered brokerages have never received a full on-site inspection.
Other party leaders have weighed in.
“The Ford government needs to do better starting now by investing in ad blitzes and promoting the benefits of vaccination, and taking an equitable approach to reach vulnerable people and communities,” said Interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns. “It’s never too late to take measures to keep people healthy and safe.”
“We should be tackling the high cost of auto insurance, not letting companies gouge drivers like the government has,” he added.
“At a time when flood risk is increasing, the Ford government is weakening conservation authorities, and gutting already weak wetland protections all in the name of an expensive pro-sprawl agenda,” said Green Leader Mike Schreiner. “Recent FAO reports show that climate-fueled extreme weather is going to cost us $6-billion this decade and $116-billion this century in extra costs to public buildings. And adapting public transportation infrastructure will add between $110-billion to $229-billion to infrastructure costs by 2100.”
To read the full report, click here.