Saturday, September 26, 2009

Haldimand "Governments need to be Accountable"

I can't believe that it has been this long since I have posted on my blog! Since I was appointed to the Haldimand County Disaster Relief Committee back in April and started working part time reporting for the Dunnville Chronicle in May, I haven't had much time to post. This is not to say that I am not interested in the politics of the day, quite the opposite.

Good news is that the Haldimand County Disaster Relief Committee is winding down as we have exceeded our goal! The flood victims will be paid out probably in late October.

Toby Barrett, MPP for Haldimand County sent a news release yesterday all about the Provincial governments lack "accountability", in regards to the OLG. I agree with Toby and Tim Hudak, demand all that money back! If that had been you or I in our jobs, we would not be treated the same as they have been!

Where is the accountability for OLG scandals?

by Toby Barrett, MPP

It’s disturbing on our return to Queens Park to see government bungling two spending scandals in which millions have been squandered by Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG), and at e-health. The difficulties at OLG represent the latest in a trail of missteps dating back some four years now.

It was 2005, when we began hearing rumours of “insider” wins and lottery sellers collecting a disproportionate share of winnings; in some cases, ripping off customers. The ugly truth was revealed through an independent probe launched by Ontario’s Ombudsman, Andre Marin. His report revealed that millions had been paid out to unscrupulous retailers, stating, “confidence in our lotteries is shattered.”

The fallout? A recommended 23 reforms and the exit of OLG chief executive Duncan Brown – he hightailed it with two year’s salary as severance before the report became public. The government then hired new CEO, Kelly McDougald, - the same Kelly McDougald who was fired by OLG this month.

The lottery payouts to insiders continue to the tune of $198 million since Marin’s expose.

Last March, OLG was reprimanded for giving away foreign-made, as opposed to domestic, luxury cars in its ‘License to Win’ promotion at a time when our domestic auto sector was struggling. Criticism prompted the lottery corporation to launch a review of the annual promotion.

As well, questions surrounding OLG tendering practices including the incidence of untendered contracts have emerged, leading government to stop payment on two casino projects in Brantford and Ajax, worth about $30 million.

And the most recent OLG bombshell reveals expense accounts for items and services that have no business being expensed. It seems we, as taxpayers, have been footing the bill for expenses like car washes, $500 for a nanny, and $3,713.77 for a night out for 38 people.

While Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has indicated he is, “disappointed with what has been brought to my attention”, and the entire OLG board has resigned, the fact remains it’s time for government to take some responsibility.

A good first step would be to get some, or better yet all, of that misspent money back.

Ombudsman Marin has called on the OLG to launch civil suits to regain some of the millions in insider wins, and Opposition Leader Tim Hudak has demanded Mr. McGuinty order the reimbursement of fraudulent, excessive and unreasonable expenses billed by OLG execs.

For its part, government has introduced the Public Sector Expenses Review Act to give the Integrity Commissioner new powers to oversee expenses of senior officials – this is asking a staff of nine, in addition to their regular jobs, to now analyze the expense accounts of 80,000 bureaucrats. While the goal sounds admirable, it doesn’t do anything to address this government’s culture of waste entrenched in the current regime.

As Mr. Hudak stated this past week, "I actually believe in ministerial accountability. The buck stops at the minister's desk. If the minister can't set the tone how the lunch money is spent, how do we expect them to oversee hospitals, highways or schools in our province?"

It’s clear the shuffling and firing of CEO's in the wake of each scandal will not fix the lack of leadership in the Ontario Government. It’s time for a Cabinet Minister to show some accountability.