TORONTO — Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives will withdraw an election promise to bring back the power of the auditor general to investigate all government contracts valued at more than $100,000, the party announced Friday.
The Tories, who have been trailing behind the governing Liberals and the New Democrats in opinion polls, had promised in June to remove auditor general Bonnie Lysyk’s power to withhold contracts not being audited if elected.
But they announced Friday that they would not put it into legislation until next spring to be debated before an election that the governing Liberals are expected to call next month.
The Conservatives said they have worked hard to restore integrity to government. They pointed to a fraud that occurred under the Liberals’ watch — the so-called gas plant scandal — which cost the taxpayers $230 million.
“What we believe is that there should be transparency in the government and when contracts get over $100,000 it’s out of the budget. That’s something that was broken,” said Progressive Conservative spokesman Anil Ratup.
Ratup said Lysyk will be free to audit contracts without a political interference from the government.
“That said, we have listened to the independent auditor general and are removing this ability to review any contracts in the province,” he said.
Lysyk, who criticized the PC plan, said Friday that the move will put at risk her ability to control government spending.
“It’s an important tool for monitoring the results of the taxpayers’ money that we spend, and you don’t really need heavy governance of contracts to be able to monitor the outcomes of them,” she said.
“It’s very unclear to me how a PC government would be able to oversee the implementation of those projects, that the people that produce the contracts actually do carry out projects.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the reversal is a sign of the “serious health crisis” in the province.
“Instead of focusing on fixing our province, we are focusing on attacking Bonnie Lysyk,” he said.
“It’s time to let the auditor general do her job. It is time to stop wasting our tax dollars and get real jobs for Ontarians.”
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne accused the Tories of washing their hands of responsibility for overseeing the integrity of government contracts, which was one of the issues the party named in the 2015 election platform as proof that they could lead the province.
“At one point the people of Ontario saw all the the weakness that the (Tories) brought into government, and they chose a different path,” Wynne said.
“So they clearly weren’t able to deal with those contract issues. They clearly couldn’t deal with all the scandals that the Liberals brought into government. So what we are seeing from the Tories is a very predictable pattern, and that is they don’t want to accept responsibility, they don’t want to take accountability for the past.”
The Liberals have raised the issue of legal advice from former Tory justice minister Kim Craitor defending the original legislation in 2011 stripping Lysyk of her power to veto contracts.
Craitor stated that the original amendment was not the intention of the Liberal government, but the Tories saw the change as a victory.