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Ontario's Liberal Government Must Stop Attacking Official Watchdogs

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LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF ONTARIO
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Ontario's Liberal government's deeply ingrained struggles with honesty and transparency continue to taint their governing legacy.

That struggle is most pronounced in the Liberal's ongoing war with Ontario's Independent Officers of the Legislature, who are tasked with holding government and provincial agencies accountable.

That's right. The Liberal party is repeatedly undermining the non-partisan watchdogs charged with keeping things honest and transparent at Queen's Park.

In May 2015, these independent officers issued an unprecedented release protesting the government's proposals as set out in Bill 91, expressing concern that the bill would reduce their oversight powers.

Since then, the Liberal's assault of these independent watchdog's official oversight powers continues unabated.

Unprecedented release of provincial financial statements without an audit

Recently, the government tabled Public Accounts Statements -- the province's annual financial statements -- without a public audit. In response to this unprecedented action, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk expressed her disappointment with the Liberal government: "This is the first time in the history of Ontario that the statements have been released without the audit opinion."

The Liberals are also battling the Auditor General over changes to the rules for government advertising.

Although the statements have now been released with a qualified audit opinion, the Liberals questioned the credibility and honesty of the Auditor General.

Treasury Board President Liz Sandals claims the government did not have time to incorporate proposed accounting changes from the Auditor General because they arrived two weeks prior to the release of the statements, even though the Auditor General said she notified the government of the changes in June.

Sandals is either misleading the public or blatantly ignoring the Auditor General or both.

Changing advertising rules to make taxpayers pay for pro-Liberal ads

The Liberals are also battling the Auditor General over changes to the rules for government advertising. Taking a page out of former prime minister Harper's playbook, the Liberals changed government advertising rules last year to allow the government to use taxpayer money to fund ads that promote Liberal government policy.

The Auditor General has called out the Liberals for their partisan ads, but she no longer has the power to act in the public interest by preventing these ads from airing. Instead, the Liberal rule changes force the Auditor General to rubber-stamp ads that she would have otherwise pulled for providing partisan benefits for the Liberals.

The government claims they changed the rules because some ads were rejected for reasons they saw as unnecessary. According to the Auditor General, however, fewer than one per cent of the over 7,200 ads approved in the last ten years were rejected for being too partisan.

The Auditor General is rightfully worried that the ad rule changes could give the Liberals an unfair advantage in the next election.

Stonewalling Ontario's financial accountability officer

The government's attack on legislative officers also extends to Stephen LeClair, Ontario's Financial Accountability Officer. Mr. LeClair has accused the Liberals of withholding key information he needs to do his job as Ontario's budget watchdog.

In his first annual report, Mr. LeClair says he made six information requests to government ministries and agencies and received only four partial answers to those requests.

Preventing Ontario's Financial Accountability Officer from doing his job is a slap in the face of taxpayers. Without an independent look at the numbers, citizens have no idea whether the billions the government plans to spend on infrastructure is being done responsibly in the public interest or in a way that promotes the Liberal's political self-interest.

How can the people of Ontario, let alone MPPs, make informed decisions when their own government denies the Financial Accountability Officer the information he needs to analyze the government's data?

This pattern of secrecy lays bare any claims to transparency the Liberal government makes.

In response to Mr. LeClair's complaints and public criticism over Liberal stonewalling, cabinet has finally stepped in and ordered government ministries to give Mr. LeClair the information he needs to perform his duties.

This government's Harper-style attacks must stop

The Liberal's ongoing refusal to cooperate with legislative officers raises serious questions about the integrity of government decisions and has major implications for how the government spends your money.

The Liberal's Harper-style attacks on independent officers of the Legislature also raise questions about what the government is so desperate to hide. This pattern of secrecy lays bare any claims to transparency the Liberal government makes.

The government needs to end its ongoing war with Ontario's legislative watchdogs. The people of Ontario deserve independent accounting and analysis of government decisions and plans in order to keep the government honest. How else can we be sure the decisions and choices moving forward are informed ones?

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