The perils of partisan punditry
Publication DateTuesday, December 13, 2016 - 10:15am
This past weekend, columnist Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star wrote a scathing review of Ontario’s Auditor General, in his column, “An auditor who uses polling just like politicians.”
For the record, we were very pleased with Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s report and the outstanding job she does year over year evaluating whether governments deliver value for money.
Cohn painted a picture of the Auditor General becoming somehow partisan in her reporting. He says she has been “exaggerating” how private contractor work has been wasteful. That she has become “obsessed” on the issue of advertising. And that she is mimicking what “campaigning politicians” do.
It is not the Auditor General being out of line here; it is Cohn’s remarks that are troubling.
One of the major themes in Lysyk’s report was that of failed construction contractors under-delivering, putting lives at risk by cutting corners, and shockingly getting renewed to do more work on public roads and transit projects.
Lysyk took a microscope to Metrolinx, for example, as she should because over the past five years, Metrolinx has spent about $4 billion to build almost 520 projects, and it is expected to spend another $27 billion over the next 10 years.
This is a lot of money.
Cohn mocked Lysyk for pointing to examples of Metrolinx contractors costing us money. But this is her job. She identified how Metrolinx has failed to hold design consultants and construction contractors accountable for late or poor quality work, and that consultants have caused cost overruns resulting from their own errors.
Lysyk also sharpened her pencil on Ontario’s hydro sector – something she has done many times before. Ontario is facing a hydro crisis, yet Cohn seems to believe that she is making a mountain out of a mole hill.
Lysyk called for the Ontario Energy Board to disclose details about the global adjustment charge on electricity bills, because few of us in this province are convinced we are getting value for money for our hydro.
In fact, there is nothing murkier than hiding rising electricity costs in a global adjustment charge.
However, Cohn chose to criticize the Auditor General for doing her due diligence, claiming she is being too political. He must be living on another planet not to realize that there is nothing partisan about Ontarians wanting relief, and wanting it fast.
Perhaps Cohn has an inside track into this Liberal government, because the government refused to take Lysyk’s advice: the Ontario Energy Board announced this week they will not change the global adjustment charge and Ontarians will have to stay in the dark about this pricing scheme.
Every report from the Auditor General has value because she sheds light into the wasteful decisions of this government. Lysyk has many smart people working with her. She is not alone in her work as there are at least 100 people on her team who are dedicated to doing value-for-money audits.
Cohn is presumably just a one-person operation, and his views are very much out of touch with most of Ontario.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union