Au­di­tor slams wel­fare sys­tem

So­cial as­sis­tance re­cip­i­ents didn’t get help to be­come sel­f­re­liant, re­port says

The Chatham Daily News - - NEWS - PAOLA LORIG­GIO and SHAWN JEF­FORDS

TORONTO — On­tario’s so­cial as­sis­tance costs bal­looned un­der the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, but the sys­tem failed to help re­cip­i­ents be­come self-re­liant or con­sis­tently en­sure that only those el­i­gi­ble re­ceived sup­port, the prov­ince’s au­di­tor gen­eral said Wed­nes­day.

In a sweep­ing an­nual re­port, Bon­nie Lysyk said the num­ber of On­tario Works cases has in­creased by al­most 25 per cent since 2009, hik­ing costs up from $1.9 bil­lion to nearly $3 bil­lion.

The prov­ince has yet to col­lect $730 mil­lion in over­pay­ments made to re­cip­i­ents over sev­eral years and it does not track the cause of those over­pay­ments, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to pre­vent them in the fu­ture, Lysyk said.

At the same time, the pro­gram helped only 10 to 13 per cent of re­cip­i­ents find work in the last five years, and the length of time peo­ple re­ceive as­sis­tance has nearly dou­bled since 2009, jump­ing to nearly three years from 19 months, she said.

“A cen­tral find­ing in al­most all of the au­dits this year was that spend­ing of pub­lic monies did not con­sis­tently re­sult in the cost­ef­fec­tive achieve­ment of an­tic­i­pated pro­gram ben­e­fits, or the proac­tive ad­dress­ing of pro­gram risks,” Lysyk said.

“We also found that, con­trary to what peo­ple would ex­pect, the gov­ern­ment did not al­ways take all steps nec­es­sary to en­sure that pro­grams are pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance only to el­i­gi­ble peo­ple.”

Lysyk also said ap­peals of On­tario Dis­abil­ity Sup­port Pro­gram de­ci­sions made up more than 40 per cent of the work­load at le­gal aid clin­ics in the last year. The prov­ince could save about $20 mil­lion on le­gal aid an­nu­ally if it re­duced the num­ber of ap­peals, which the gov­ern­ment loses in 75 per cent of cases, she said.

Since the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives formed a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment in June, the au­di­tor’s re­port deals with the ac­tions of the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral regime in 15 value-for-money au­dits.

The To­ries said the re­port demon­strates how in­ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship and reck­less spend­ing pro­lif­er­ated un­der their pre­de­ces­sors.

“It is the cul­mi­na­tion of this his­tor­i­cal mis­man­age­ment that has so threat­ened the cred­i­bil­ity of our prov­ince’s fi­nances,” said Trea­sury Board Pres­i­dent Pe­ter Beth­len­falvy. “That stops now.”

So­cial Ser­vices Min­is­ter Lisa MacLeod said the find­ings high­light the need for so­cial as­sis­tance re­form, which the new gov­ern­ment is work­ing on.

“It is a proof point for the fact that this is a dis­jointed, patch­work sys­tem,” she said. “The out­comes sim­ply aren’t there to get peo­ple back in the work­force.”

The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives laid out a broad vi­sion for so­cial as­sis­tance re­form last month, promis­ing to cut red tape and en­cour­age peo­ple to get back to work. Peo­ple re­ceiv­ing dis­abil­ity sup­port will be able to keep more of the money they earn as part of the changes, but crit­ics said it will be harder to qual­ify for help.

The Op­po­si­tion New Democrats said that while the re­port re­flects Lib­eral mis­man­age­ment, it should send a warn­ing to the To­ries.

“The things that the au­di­tor flags . . . are things that are al­ready hall­marks of the Ford Con­ser­va­tives,” NDP Leader An­drea Hor­wath said. “This means that where the Lib­er­als let you down, the Ford Con­ser­va­tives are mak­ing things worse.”

The Lib­er­als ex­pressed con­cern the gov­ern­ment would use the re­port to jus­tify aus­ter­ity.

In­terim leader John Fraser said he sees the To­ries cre­at­ing “a con­text for cuts and aus­ter­ity that will im­pact the ser­vices that On­tar­i­ans de­pend on greatly.”

Lysyk scru­ti­nized a num­ber of ar­eas, in­clud­ing the prov­ince’s tran­sit agency, Metrolinx. She found the pre­vi­ous min­is­ter of trans­porta­tion im­prop­erly in­flu­enced the se­lec­tion of two GO Tran­sit train sta­tions, over­rid­ing the agency’s own anal­y­sis that sug­gested the sta­tions should not be built for at least a decade.

She also found light-rail pro­jects planned for the Greater Toronto and Hamil­ton ar­eas in­curred roughly $436 mil­lion in un­nec­es­sary costs since 2009 be­cause of prob­lems in the tran­sit-plan­ning process and how Metrolinx car­ries out its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“Af­ter cer­tain pro­jects were an­nounced or agreed on, the provin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments changed their de­ci­sions on what to build and when to build, even though sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments had al­ready been made,” Lysyk said.

She cited the City of Toronto’s rev­er­sal on a tran­sit project in Scar­bor­ough — changes that oc­curred while Ford served as a city coun­cil­lor and his late brother, Rob Ford, was mayor.

An­other sec­tion of the re­port found the gov­ern­ment could save money by hir­ing full-time IT staff in­stead of re­ly­ing on con­sul­tants for long-term con­tracts.

Pe­ter Graefe, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at McMaster Univer­sity, said the re­port will give the To­ries more am­mu­ni­tion to crit­i­cize their pre­de­ces­sors.

“Usu­ally this is one of the worst days of the year for gov­ern­ment,” he said. “But for a new gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly re­plac­ing one that’s been there for 15 years, it’s like candy, in the sense that it al­lows them to fur­ther brow­beat a Lib­eral party that is in very weak shape provin­cially.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Au­di­tor gen­eral Bon­nie Lysyk looked at sev­eral ar­eas dur­ing the pe­riod when the Lib­er­als were in power.

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