QP REPORT: Is $5B spent actually helping business?

In this April 2015, file photo, MPP Jim McDonell speaks with Cornwall Mayor Leslie O'Shaughnessy at an event in Cornwall. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

Accountability and energy were again top of the mind issues at Queen’s Park this week. The government had to go on the defensive as more allegations of document destruction surfaced. This time, they are related to a $500 million lawsuit brought forward by Trillium Energy over a government decision to stop Trillium’s offshore wind project. With less than two months before the set trial date, Trillium Energy is alleging that documents related to the case were deliberately destroyed in order to prevent the company from accurately presenting their arguments before the court. For many, this rightfully triggers an eerie sense of déjà vu in the wake of Judge Lipson’s decision to impose a four-month jail sentence on the chief of staff to former Premier Dalton McGuinty for his role in destroying records related to the cancellation of two gas plant projects ahead of the 2011 provincial election.

My caucus colleagues and I also pushed the government for decisive action against an out-of-control Board of Directors at Hydro One. The Board secretly approved a doubling of the CEO’s severance package to $10 million in the case that the Province exercised its right to fire him or her. This insult only adds to the injury of families being disconnected due to skyrocketing bills while the CEO of the utility earns almost ten times the amount of his counterparts in other Provinces. The current government has repeatedly defended this ridiculous compensation package.

The Financial Accountability Officer delivered more disconcerting news this week regarding the $5 billion spent annually on government’s business support programs. Since 2011, at least five independent studies have called upon the government to implement a much more robust system of tracking the impact of grants, loans and tax credits aimed at businesses to ensure the programs were working and benefiting the economy. Three of those (the Drummond Report, the Business Support Program Expert Panel and the Auditor-General’s 2015 report) were commissioned by the government itself. Despite these studies, it is 2018 and the government is still unable to present measurable evidence that the programs are making a difference. This is upsetting for two reasons. First, this adds up to tens of billions of dollars spent without any measured outcomes. The government has thrown money at select businesses to great fanfare, only for them to close down and relocate to more competitive jurisdictions a few months later. Without proper evidence gathering, bringing Ministers to account becomes more difficult. The second reason is that meaningful and treasured programs such as the Eastern Ontario Development Fund and the Apprenticeship Tax Credit become tarnished by association. Seeking to please their millionaire club friends, the government is undermining rural development and employee training.

When this government speaks of caring, they really mean caring about themselves. Isn’t it time attitudes changed?

Jim McDonell
MPP, Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry