Ford government’s new ‘audit and accountability’ committee will not probe why Ontario’s chief accountant quit

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Ford government’s new ‘audit and accountability’ committee will not probe why Ontario’s chief accountant quit


The Progressive Conservative government has struck a new “audit and accountability” cabinet committee to increase the scrutiny on spending.

But Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy said the panel of cabinet ministers will not examine why the province’s chief accountant quit after refusing to sign off on the public accounts due to concerns about the inflated deficit.

Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy said a panel of cabinet ministers will not examine why the province’s chief accountant quit in September. “No, this committee won’t be looking at that,” he said Dec. 11, 2018.
Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy said a panel of cabinet ministers will not examine why the province’s chief accountant quit in September. “No, this committee won’t be looking at that,” he said Dec. 11, 2018.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

Bethlenfalvy, a Bay Street veteran, said Tuesday the committee “is designed to meet our fiduciary responsibilities.”

Asked if the new panel would try to determine why provincial controller Cindy Veinot resigned Sept. 27 after declining to approve what the government claimed was then a $15-billion deficit, he said: “No, this committee won’t be looking at that.”

“It’ll be taking the auditor general’s report and acting upon it and making sure ministries follow up so that we have great accountability,” the minister said.

As first disclosed by the Star, Veinot, a civil servant, left because she “did not agree with accounting decisions made by the current government.”

“I believe that the consolidated financial statements of the province of Ontario as issued … materially overstate the deficit of the province for the year,” she said in an unsolicited submission to the legislative “transparency” committee examining the province’s books.

Because Tory MPPs on that select committee have blocked Veinot from testifying as a witness, New Democrat Sandy Shaw said she has little hope for any new cabinet accountability initiative.

“It has been an abysmal failure,” said Shaw (Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas), who sits on the committee.

“They talk a good a game … but their actions belie how transparent they’re really willing to be.”

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said the new cabinet panel should begin its work by interviewing Veinot.

“It’s an audit committee and the public accounts they submitted don’t actually have the top accountant in the government’s signature on it. That’s the first thing they should investigate. They should talk to her,” said Fraser.

“She had very serious concerns about the government’s misrepresentation of the deficit.”

Veinot, who has also recommended an audit committee be formed, broke with the government over whether $11 billion in public money in co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan should be counted as an asset on the books.

She contends they are.

Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk — along with her predecessors — used to count them as such. But Lysyk changed her mind in 2015 and no longer does.

The new government sides with the auditor general, who praised the administration for its audit committee.

That decision has ballooned the deficit by $5 billion. It now sits at $14.5 billion, though the financial accountability officer said Monday it is at least $1.2 billion lower.

Lysyk, for her part, welcomed Bethlenfalvy’s new initiative.

“I am encouraged to hear that one of the responsibilities of the audit and accountability committee will be to monitor the timely implementation of the recommendations made by my office, resulting from our value-for-money and other audit work,” she said.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie





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