Most readers have the basic understanding that the Auditor General (AG) is responsible for keeping watch over the administration of Ontario’s finances. The AG is appointed and operates independent of government influence or authority and studies the government’s finances by carrying out detailed scrutiny of its spending. The AG reports to the People of Ontario, so the voters themselves can determine how well the government is doing its job.
While you might think that the AG is a position created in the modern era, in truth, the first independent AG was appointed in 1886, just nine years after Confederation. It is interesting to note that the position came about as a result of a scandal in 1885 when a $14,000 difference in government books was discovered. So even back then, things were not as squeaky clean as some might believe.
At that time, while the AG was theoretically independent, however if the Treasury Department disagreed with the AG’s findings, he could be overruled. Today, the AG is an officer of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario which means there is a safeguard to keep the office from being influenced by the government. Today they can fulfill their responsibilities objectively and fairly without fear of reprisals or being overruled.
In April of this year, the AG published a report that independently concluded that the inhumane suffering of seniors in Ontario’s long-term care facilities actually began years ago. Successive Liberal and Conservative governments instituted cuts that led to growing neglect. Under the Ford government, extremely dangerous cuts and choices were made so that when the pandemic hit, thousands of deaths resulted. Deaths that were avoidable and by no means immanent.
Under the Ford government, nearly 4000 precious lives have been lost. The mere fact alone that so many died is totally unacceptable, but worse, many of those seniors died alone and in pain. Thousands more suffered while their loved ones agonized at home, unable to be there with them to offer comfort or help. Let there be no doubt, however, that the Ford government knew the system was a disaster waiting to happen — and they chose to let it happen.
Days ago, the AG released a Special Report which describes dangerously low staffing levels, crowding and viral infections running rampant – which came about as a result of years of Liberal government neglect and privatization.
Then it points to Doug Ford’s 2018 elimination of annual comprehensive inspections — leaving serious problems, including infection prevention and control problems, to grow and fester. And when COVID struck, Ford chose to allow long-term care companies to decide for themselves what to do.
The government received warning after warning that our parents and grandparents were not safe in their nursing homes. The Wynne and Del Duca Liberals kept packing seniors into rooms, and kept letting for-profit operators cut corners on infection control. The writing was on the wall predicting a disaster was immanent. Doug Ford promised us all that he’d move heaven and earth to protect vulnerable seniors. But in truth, he chose to neglect our seniors instead.
The report put Minister of Long-Term Care, Doctor Merrilee Fullerton, on the hot seat. She was called upon to take responsibility for what has happened on her watch. Minister Fullerton knew that seniors in nursing homes were being put at risk of COVID-19, and that thousands would likely die. She knew the Ford government was refusing to take steps or make essential investments to spare them. And she knew that residents were dying, not only of COVID-19, but of dehydration and neglect — all of them alone and in pain. In the Legislature she deflected all responsibility for the situation and after just three questions in a media availability, she suddenly just walked off without answering more the scheduled questions, without accepting responsibility for her inaction and without explaining why she just left.
While Mike Harris, Dalton McGuinty, Kathleen Wynne, and Steven Del Duca all bear responsibility for privatizing, cutting, underfunding and neglecting long-term care, it was Doug Ford and Merrilee Fullerton who made the devastating choices to cancel comprehensive inspections, deny staff paid sick days, leave facilities brutally understaffed, skip infection prevention and control, and act slowly, if at all, while the virus was ravaging nursing homes.
Rather than focussing on caring for the most vulnerable members of our society, Ford and Fullerton chose to focus on their friends that profit off long-term care. They knowingly chose to protect those friends from legal liability, instead of protecting the very lives of our elderly. Fullerton, Ford and the corporations that put profits ahead of lives must all be held to account.
The AG’s job is to call it like it is. They have long maintained their history of independence from government influence, and have demonstrated loyalty free of political spin to those to whom he or she reports – the People of Ontario.
The AG’s Special Report tells it like it is. Ontarians are not receiving the leadership they deserve.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha, MPP/député Algoma-Manitoulin