The Progressive Conservative government will not say why the province’s chief accountant resigned suddenly after refusing to sign off on a $15 billion deficit she felt was inflated.
As first disclosed by the Star, provincial controller Cindy Veinot quit in September because she “did not agree with accounting decisions made by the current government.”
Veinot, a civil servant with 25 years of previous accounting experience at Deloitte, stepped down because she felt Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s numbers “materially overstate the deficit of the province for the year.”
In the legislature on Thursday, Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy was asked why the province’s public accounts do not bear the signature of the controller this year.
“I can’t comment on the controller and the lack of signature,” said Bethlenfalvy, countering that auditor general Bonnie Lysyk issued a “clean opinion” of the province’s books for the first time in three years.
“We listened to the auditor general, who for years did not agree with the accounting of the previous Liberal government’s books,” the minister added.
But interim Liberal leader John Fraser said Veinot’s decision to leave is an indictment of the new administration.
“Here is why the controller’s signature is not on this year’s public accounts: She was forced to leave in September because she did not agree with the accounting decision made by the government,” said Fraser.
“She said she could not put her professional attestation on the public accounts. The government is overstating the deficit as a context for cuts. We’ve already seen those cuts to health care, to education, to social services, to the things that families depend on,” he said.
Veinot, who has declined to speak publicly, made her comments in a 12-page submission to the standing committee on financial transparency.
The committee, dominated by Progressive Conservative MPPs, has repeatedly blocked efforts by NDP MPPs on the panel to call her as a witness.
Her unsolicited report to the committee was obtained by the Star on Wednesday.
At issue is an accounting dispute over whether $11 billion of government money in the co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan can be counted as a government asset on the books.
Veinot, a pension accounting expert, contends the holdings are an asset.
While Lysyk — and her predecessors — formerly counted them, she revised her accounting in 2015 and now insists they have no value on the books.
The Tories’ decision to side with the auditor over the controller has added $5 billion to the deficit, which now sits at $14.5 billion.
Veinot and Lysyk have personal and professional differences.
In her submission to the committee, Veinot said Lysyk resorted to “personal attacks, disparaging comments about the professional services firm at which I was a partner (Deloitte), and threats” at a Sept. 27, 2016 meeting.
“What I witnessed in that meeting and subsequently documented the next day was but an introduction to what I would witness during the two years I worked for the OPS (Ontario public service),” the former controller wrote.
Lysyk declined to discuss their tense relations.
“You know, I prefer not to,” the auditor general said Wednesday.
“This is not a personal thing. … This is the province’s financial statements,” she said.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie