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Now we know how we’re being gouged

The McGuinty Liberals should consider themselves lucky the annual report from Auditor General Jim McCarter came out now rather than before the election. Given their reduced mandate and minority status, it’s not a stretch to suggest this report could have been an election game-changer. It’s that critical, especially on the government’s green energy strategy, which was a central plank in its election platform.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the auditor’s mandate has built in limitations. It focuses primarily on value-for-money, which is appropriate to a point but also falls short of assessing the overall value of some activity. For example, the report slams the Liberals’ green energy policies as being more expensive than expected and delivering less, but it doesn’t assess the value of those policies in environmental and health terms, so the picture isn’t complete.

That said, this is a damning report. It says the government is overpaying for solar, overestimating wind power, and exaggerating its green sector job creation claims. It projects that premiums paid to green electricity generators will add an additional $220 million annually to hydro bills. It also slams the government for not doing ongoing due diligence to provide a “cost-benefit assessment of the progress made to date” and doing “no formal analysis” on the Samsung consortium deal, which will bring in $7 billion in investment but also pay out hefty premiums for green energy generation plus another $110 million over 20 years. It also demands the government come clean on how much is still owed on the former Ontario Hydro residual debt, stranded since 2002. (The original amount was $7.8 billion but $8.7 billion has been collected from taxpayers, which critics say should cover the principal and interest accrued over time.)

The infuriating news doesn’t stop there. The auditor points out that a 12 per cent profit guarantee given to insurance companies probably means motorists are paying more than they should for coverage. And although we’re spending more than ever on doctors, no one know whether Ontarians are getting improved access in return. And if all this prompts you to drown your sorrows, be prepared to pay more than you should at the LCBO because their wholesale pricing structure means booze costs more than necessary, resulting in the liquor monopoly making less profit than it should.

But the loudest alarm is the government’s continued fumbling on energy. We continue to support green energy research and generation for reasons of environmental sustainability, health and economic revitalization. But that has to be balanced against adequate oversight, transparency and taxpayer protection. Ideology without pragmatism and common sense is dangerous, and this government seems to have forgotten that.