On December 2, 2015, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released her annual report for the province of Ontario. The final 773-page document may very well be the most comprehensive indictment of the Wynne Liberals yet produced. From the government’s contempt of public input to their crony practices, Lysyk’s report is further confirmation that the “progressive” Liberal brand that Ontarians were promised in 2014 was just one more fanciful illusion.
A scandal in the energy sector…
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the report is the discovery that Ontarians paid $37 billion above market prices for electricity from 2006 to 2014. This works out to more than $4.5 billion annually when averaged out over the eight years from 2006. What’s more is that consumers are expected to pay an incredible $133-billion more by 2032. For those who have been repeatedly told that there is “no more money” for them, working Ontarians have every right to wonder where these vast sums of wealth are disappearing to every year. As it turns out, that same money is being used to line the coffers of some of the richest and most powerful corporations in Ontario.
According to the report, the largest part of these increases are a result of Ontario’s “Global Adjustment Fees”, a system introduced in 2005 which pays power-generating companies above the market price as an incentive to invest in the province. In other words, Ontario consumers are unwittingly forced to subsidize the profits of major power-generating corporations. This swindle becomes all the more unnerving when we compare what consumers pay for electricity with what it should actually cost. One study by Navigant Consulting Ltd. found that the global adjustment amounted to $6.3 billion or more than 60 per cent of the total electricity cost in the year they tracked. This would imply that consumers are paying more than double what the electricity should cost at the going market rate.
Despite their benevolent reputation, renewable energy corporations are perhaps the worst offenders when it comes to the global adjustment. As noted in The Globe and Mail, “Ms. Lysyk said Ontario pays more for green power than other jurisdictions. Compared to U.S. prices, the cost of wind power in Ontario is double and solar power is more than triple.”
As though this was not scandalous enough, Lysyk’s report goes on to note how power-generators are not only paid to produce electricity that is not needed, but that they are even paid not to produce energy. The Globe and Mail article continues:
“The province also produces enough extra electricity to power the province of Manitoba, an excess that costs consumers, Ms. Lysyk found. For instance, the province paid $3.1-billion to power generators between 2009 and 2014 for power that was not needed, plus another $339-million not to produce power.”
It is ironic that these scandals are coming to light in the wake of the Ontario government’s privatization of Hydro One. Those same private-sector bandits and Liberal cronies who ripped off Ontarian consumers for years now say that they should be entrusted with our public utility assets. But Ontarians were unconvinced of those plans before, and will be even less supportive of them now that this scandal has been exposed.
…And a scandal in everything else
The overcharging of electricity users is however only the surface of what has been exposed in Lysyk’s report. As noted by Robyn Urback in The National Post, “[I]f I were to summarize the findings of Lysyk’s 770-page document, it seems that the big issue with the Liberal government is: everything.” Indeed, the report touches on everything from the doling out of corporate welfare behind closed doors, to the gross neglect of home health care, to even the lack of oversight for school bus companies.
To take just one example, Lysyk details how the Ministry of Economic Development has provided $1.45 billion in corporate subsidies since 2004. This is the money that went disproportionately to big business, much of which was not made public. The report also uncovered examples of corporate investments that would have been made without a taxpayer subsidy. Lysyk notes how the ministry "has not attempted to measure whether the $1.4 billion it has provided to Ontario businesses since 2004 actually strengthened the economy," and how the government "has no information on whether jobs created or retained are long-lasting.”
The Ontario Liberals say they “welcome” the auditor general’s recommendations, and that they take them “very seriously.” But the public is highly sceptical. Kathleen Wynne’s approval rating fell to a new low of 21 per cent at the beginning of November, a number on par with Dalton McGuinty before he resigned amid the notorious gas plant scandal. Wynne’s “net approval” rating, which is the number of people who think she’s doing a good job minus those who disapprove, is an abysmal negative 47 per cent. Forum Research conducted the poll and Forum President Lorne Bozinoff commented how “This is a new low for her…Wynne has had a lot of bad news and not much good news, and when you weigh that, it sort of puts them where they’re at.” As low as these figures may be, we shouldn’t forget that they were collected before the release of Lysyk’s report, meaning that there is room for her approval rating to fall still further.
These are not the levels of support which swept the Liberals to power under their guise of “change” in 2014. These are levels of support which led to the downfall of Wynne’s predecessor and will ultimately lead to her government going on the defensive. While the federal Liberals continue to indulge in their honeymoon period, the same can no longer be said of their Ontario counterpart. Any remaining illusions are crumbling daily under the weight of the scandals, corruption, and contempt for the working class, of Wynne’s government.
Looking for a way out
How will workers and youth begin expressing their anger with this government? That is a difficult question to answer. Looming strikes by teachers’ unions and school support staff, which may have marked a turn in the situation, were perpetually forestalled before being called off altogether by the union leadership. Aside from smaller strikes like that of the Ontario Nurses’ Association at the start of the year, things have up until now remained quiet on the labour front.
The Ontario NDP is however perfectly positioned to pose an alternative to the Liberal agenda. Notably, the aforementioned Forum poll notes how NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s approval rating rose from 38 per cent to 41 per cent – largely as a result of the party’s opposition to the sale of Hydro One. This should not be taken lightly. In response to the energy scandals outlined in Lysyk’s report, the Ontario NDP should take its cues from UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. A self-described socialist, Corbyn was overwhelmingly elected leader on a platform which included the nationalization of the energy sector. This is a demand which the Ontario NDP should also adopt, as a solution to the thievery of the power-generating corporations.
The problems outlined in Lysyk’s report are not only relegated to the energy sector, however. Cronyism, nepotism and corruption are all symptoms of a system whose mantra is “profits, more profits and still more profits.” That system is capitalism, and it cannot be cast away with pocketbook pledges and “moderation” – but with socialism. If the Ontario NDP were elected on a bold, socialist program, it could quickly sweep away the corporate welfare bums and their hacks in Wynne’s Liberal party.
While the auditor general may mince her words, there is no reason why we should. The content of Lysyk’s report provides a stunning refutation of everything the Liberals have marketed themselves as, and acts as a confirmation of what they actually are: a party run by and for the capitalist class. Disillusionment and anger with this government will only continue to develop further, and workers and youth of Ontario will begin searching for a way out. The Ontario NDP has a golden opportunity to provide it.