The Progressive Conservatives’ decision to muzzle the former provincial controller who quit in protest of the new government’s inflated $15-billion deficit is troubling, charges a top New Democrat.
MPP Catherine Fife said Friday the reasons for Cindy Veinot’s stunning resignation — revealed by the Star earlier this week — underscore the need for her to be allowed to testify at the legislative committee on financial transparency.
But that committee, dominated by Conservative MPPs, has blocked NDP attempts at having Veinot, who stepped down on Sept. 27, appear.
“They said ‘we already know what she’s going to say.’ They made assumptions about her testimony. By not calling the provincial controller to testify calls into question the entire credibility of the committee,” Fife said Friday.
She emphasized the Tories struck the panel for “very partisan reasons.”
“When you refuse to call the internal auditor when you’re investigating financial transparency, it really does leave people just shaking their heads,” said the Waterloo MPP.
“It certainly doesn’t instill confidence in this finance minister’s numbers that he has put out there in order to set the tone for future cuts,” she said of Finance Minister Vic Fedeli.
Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough-Guildwood) dismissed the committee as “a kangaroo court.”
“It’s one-sided and it’s not really designed to get at the truth at all,” said Hunter.
“Look at the very strong signal that Cindy Veinot sent (when) she refused to sign the public accounts. I looked at the public accounts for the last 20 years and there was always a controller that signed off,” she said.
“That’s the full-time person that oversees the books of Ontario.”
Veinot, a civil servant with 25 years of previous experience at Deloitte, left as the government’s chief accountant because she felt Fedeli’s numbers “materially overstate the deficit of the province for the year.”
The pension accounting expert disagreed with the new administration’s decision to exclude $11 billion of government money in the co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan as asset on the books.
That move adds $5 billion to the deficit, which Fedeli now maintains is $14.5 billion.
But auditor general, Bonnie Lysyk, who sparred with Veinot and the previous Liberal government over the issue, said the pensions have no value on the bottom line.
While Lysyk used to count them as an asset, she changed her mind in 2015 over concern the numbers were growing too rapidly.
Fedeli, who sides with the auditor general, has refused to discuss Veinot’s departure.
The differences between Lysyk and Veinot extend beyond a professional accounting dispute.
In an unsolicited 12-page submission to the committee that doesn’t want her to testify, 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 has declined to discuss their relationship.
“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.
Pressed by the Star, Lysyk initially denied even mentioning the fractious relations with Veinot during her own testimony at the committee.
“Actually, I didn’t testify to that effect at all, I don’t believe. I don’t believe I spoke about that, about Cindy,” she said.
That claim is contradicted by her own deputation to the committee on Oct. 15.
“They had brought in a new controller in July of 2016 — that was just when the pension issue was coming up — and immediately, from then on for the last two years, it was very tense,” Lysyk testified.
“The meetings were very intense … I wasn’t sure if what the controller’s office was telling people was right or wrong.”
Tory MPP Ross Romano (Sault Ste. Marie) has defended blocking Veinot from testifying, stressing it’s “just strictly a question of relevance.”
“We don’t believe she’s going to be able to add anything,” Romano said Monday.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie