What you need to know about Ontario’s auditor general report
Ontario’s financial watchdog released its 2022 annual report on Wednesday, highlighting a number of areas in which the government lost money and could improve in the years to come.
The 1,000-page document contained 15 separate reports about a variety of topics, including COVID-19 contracts and vaccinations, environmental protections, auto insurance rates, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.
A general theme among the reports is that a lack of communication between government departments, as well as planning, cost taxpayers money and impacted decision-making by officials.
Here’s what you need to know:
3.4 MILLION VACCINE DOSES WASTED
Between the months of February and June this year, about 38 per cent of COVID-19 vaccine doses in Ontario were wasted.
Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said in her report this was likely due to an overestimation of booster demand.
In total, Ontario has wasted about nine per cent of all COVID-19 vaccine doses.
Four private companies wasted about a quarter of what they were tasked witih administering, with a clinic at the Toronto Zoo and nine others operated by FH Health disposing of about 20 per cent of their doses.
Switch Health wasted 57 per cent of their shots, the report found.
Both those companies were paid a combined $18 million for their services.
Problems with the province’s booking portal, as well as the multiple different systems available, likely contributed to some of this wastage. The report found there were about 227,000 no-shows in 2021.
The province also spent about $114 million on a COVID-19 specific database called COVaxON, despite having an existing registry system called Panaroma, which the government never expanded.
DOCTORS PAID MORE THAN NURSES
The report found that doctors were getting paid five times more than nurses and pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccines at public health and hospital clinics.
According to the auditor general, doctors received about $170 an hour to work in a mass vaccination or mobile pop-up clinic operated by a public health unit or hospital, while nurses received between $32 and $49 an hour.
Registered practical nurses were paid even less.
“While the Ministry of Health informed us that it paid physicians more than nurses because doctors generally are paid more, it did not have an analysis to show this was fair given that health-care professionals all performed this task at vaccination sites,” the report said.
MYSTERY SHOPPERS SENT TO ONTARIO
The auditor general sent mystery shoppers to four Ontario casinos to assess money-laundering practices. Throughout the process, the shoppers were able to make away with cheques totalling over $45,000.
Lysyk said that while staff tried to verify whether the mystery shopper had played at the casino, they failed to verify whether the funds were coming from legitimate wins.
Shoppers were able to leave the casinos with almost 98 per cent of the funds they had originally brought in as cash, the auditor said.
$66M WORTH OF PPE EXPIRED OR DAMAGED
The auditor general found about $66 million worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased by the Ontario government had to be disposed of because it was damaged, obsolete or had expired.
The expired or damaged PPE included masks and certain disinfectants such as hand sanitizer.
The auditor also warned the government still has about 100 million units of N95 respirators worth $81 million that are expected to “exceed provincial demand and will expire by March 2030.”
A lack of coordination between Ontario Health and the Ministry of Education resulted in an additional $18.7 million in costs.
ONTARIO SPENT $13M ON ‘PARTISAN’ ADS
The Ontario Progressive Conservative government spent about $13.75 million last year on “partisan” advertising.
In the fiscal year ending in March 2022, the government spent about $69.33 million on advertising. Much of this was dedicated to advertising on COVID-19 vaccinations and related initiatives.
However, two campaigns—which represented about 20 per cent of that advertising—would have been considered as “partisan” under old rules. They were broken out in the auditor general’s reports in a subsection entitled “Campaigns We Took Issue With.”
The first was the “Fall Economic Statement” campaign, which included 36 ads in English and French that directed Ontarians to a website that listed proposed PC investments. While the purpose was to “inform Ontarians about the statement,” the auditor general found the purpose was to “foster a positive opinion of the government.”
The second campaign was the province’s “Ontario is Getting Stronger” initiative and also fostered a positive opinion of the government, according to the auditor general.
ONTARIO IGNORED HIGHWAY ADVICE
The report found the government ignored its own experts when it decided to prioritize building eight highways, including Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass.
The report found the Minister of Transportation directed the ministry to defer six higher-priority highways that had been approved by the Treasury Board.
Lysyk added the ministry did not have a strategy when the province removed fees from highways 412 and 418 before the costs could be recovered.
AUTO INSURANCE PREMIUMS JUMPED 14%
Average auto insurance premiums in Ontario jumped by about 14 per cent between 2017 and 2021, the report found.
"Despite several reports providing recommendations over the past decade to improve Ontario's private passenger automobile insurance framework and lower premium costs, the (regulator) and the Ministry of Finance have not sufficiently improved the framework to provide less costly private passenger automobile insurance to Ontarians," Lysyk wrote.
Lysyk found that little action had been taken by the government following a 2017 report that recommended several changes to reduce fees. However, she also said the pandemic may have hindered the government’s commitment to lower costs.
Ontario’s auto insurance rates are the highest in the country.
INVASIVE SPECIES COSTING PROVINCE $3.6B
Ontario is spending $4 million annually to fight invasive species, despite the fact they cost the province about $3.6 billion in damages.
The audit also found that conservation officers are not well-trained to identify invasive species. In the last six years, officers issued 11 warnings and laid zero charges.
In addition, dozens of invasive species are not tracked by the Ontario government.
“We found that 33 invasive species identified as high risk by nearby jurisdictions were not systematically tracked by the Ministry and have been found in Ontario,” the report found.
The auditor general also found the percentage of urban land classified as green space has declined by 94 per cent in the province’s large and medium urban centres.
OVERRELIANCE ON INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Lysyk found an overreliance on international students could put the financial health of 23 universities at risk.
“Because of the reduction and freeze on domestic tuition in Ontario and lower domestic per university student funding in Ontario compared to the rest of Canada, the universities are turning towards international student revenue for financial stability,” she wrote, adding that universities need to adjust recruitment strategies.
An audit of four universities – Nipissing University, Algoma University, Ontario Tech and University of Windsor – shows they are operating in a financially-stable manner.
A breakdown of each university can be found here.
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