The 2019 annual report of Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released last week — with its disheartening revelations about harm in hospitals, slack truck and driver safety rule,s and salty, sugary diets in nursing homes — gives the provincial government a road map for change.
A less examined portion of her hefty report looks at whether errors and omissions pointed out by her office in previous reports have been corrected.
In other words, can a government learn from past mistakes and clean up its messes?
One of the issues to keep in mind is that the government changed hands in June 2018, from former premier Kathleen Wynne to current Premier Doug Ford, and although spending roughly the same, they have very different visions for how things should work.
During her media conference Wednesday, Lysyk noted that the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP,) which has seen costs rise 75% in a decade, might have proved more efficient if governments had heeded recommendations from previous reports to prevent abuse and waste.
Of the recommendations in the 2017 value-for-money audits, 32% have been fully implemented and progress has been made on 69%, the report says.
Social and Affordable Housing
During a week in which Toronto Mayor John Tory announced his support for a new property tax levy to help provide affordable housing, it’s worth noting that the auditor’s report found the provincial government has made “little or no progress” on 58% of its past recommendations, including those that would ensure taxpayer-supported housing went to the most needy.
The auditor continues to call for the province to gather and analyze more information on social housing vacancy rates, wait lists and the living conditions of individuals waiting to receive social housing.
When the original audit was done in 2017, it was reported that Ontario had the largest social housing wait list in Canada — 185,000 households representing 481,000 people.
Housing was provided on a first-come, first-serve basis instead of highest need, the auditors found.
Since then, the auditors have seen little done on a recommendation that the government provide dedicated supports for employment or education to assist tenants who might be able to enter the workforce, the report says.
One recommendation — that the government require all municipal service managers to conduct eligibility review investigations — also showed no progress, the auditor reported.
The Toronto auditor general recently found that one couple was able to get two subsidized social housing units while also purchasing a $500,000 property outside Toronto.
A statement from Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark’s office, says his government inherited a social housing system that had been ignored for years by the previous Liberal government.
“The system was a mess — and the Auditor General agreed. We accept the Auditor General’s recommendations and are working hard to address them,” the statement says. “We are encouraging tenants to seek opportunities at school and work by removing existing penalties for working more hours or going to college or university, or receiving child support by ensuring their rent is not impacted by payments.”
The government intends to ensure that only those in need get social housing by requiring an asset test, and a new wait list policy that takes effect Jan. 1 2021 will require tenants to prioritize their housing choices so that units don’t sit empty, the statement said.
“We’ve accomplished a lot since we took office, but we’re not done yet,” the statement said.
Auditors raised concerns that Ontario cancer patients were not getting what they needed in stem cell transplants, take-home cancer drugs, radiation treatment, PET scans and timely access to urgent cancer surgeries and diagnostic services.
Cancer Care Ontario (CCO) has made significant progress on a number of recommendations to improve the situation, but Health Minister Christine Elliott is currently in the process of bringing that body under a new super Health Ontario agency.
While a number of recommendations are still in the works, the report notes there has been little or no progress on assessing whether a centralized referral and booking process for cancer surgeries would ensure patients across the province get timely access, and there’s also been no centralized process to ensure access to cancer-related CT scans and MRIs.
The 2019 auditor report also flagged the fact that there’s been little done to reduce wait times for biopsies performed in hospital operating rooms.
The Ontario government has yet to develop an effective public education program to prepare the public for emergencies.
School Boards Ten of 23 recommendations made to provide better oversight to school boards remain undone, the report says.
The Ministry of Education has yet to conduct an external review of the funding formula or ensure funds meant for the specific needs of a student group, like special education, were targeted properly.
The Ministry has shown little to no progress ensuring that school boards don’t spend funds like ESL supports elsewhere, the report says.
The auditor recommended that the Ministry create maximum class size restrictions for Grades 4-12, like they have for younger grades, but that hasn’t happened either, the report says.
Newcomer Settlement Programs
While auditors told the government it should periodically review and assess the large differences in the costs charged by service providers offering programs for newcomers, and make sure taxpayers are not being overbilled, there’s been no action, the report says.