Ontario auditor general slams city, province saying changes to LRT projects cost millions

Click to play video 'Ontario Auditor General finds unnecessary costs with Metrolinx' Ontario Auditor General finds unnecessary costs with Metrolinx
Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario's Auditor General says they found some "unnecessary costs" with Metrolinx during their annual audit report – Dec 5, 2018

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said a lack of planning and continued changes to transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area led to delays and millions in wasted spending.

The annual report, which was tabled in the provincial legislature Wednesday, looks at a wide range of provincial spending including costs at Metrolinx.

The transit agency went over budget on a number of projects, according to Lysyk, partly because municipal and provincial governments asked for changes after work had already begun.

READ MORE: Ontario auditor general says government understates deficit by billions

Metrolinx incurred about $436 million in sunk and additional costs between 2009 and 2018, the report states. “After certain projects were announced or agreed on, the provincial and municipal governments changed their decisions on what to build and when to build, even though significant investments had already been made,” Lysyk said.

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The auditor general cites a number of problems, including the City of Toronto’s shifting position on the Scarborough transit project, which she notes changed three times between 2011 and 2013 before its ultimate cancellation.

VIDEO: Ontario Auditor General slams Metrolinx for changing decisions

Click to play video 'Ontario Auditor General slams Metrolinx for changing decisions' Ontario Auditor General slams Metrolinx for changing decisions
Ontario Auditor General slams Metrolinx for changing decisions – Dec 5, 2018

“The Sheppard Light Rail Transit project has been delayed for more than 10 years, from an initial expected completion date of 2013,” she notes. “The cancellation and delay contributed to $125 million in sunk costs, with $75 million to be recovered from the City of Toronto.”

The report also points to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project. Lysyk said the infrastructure build fell significantly behind schedule in 2017. Metrolinx had limited solutions to get the project back on schedule, according to the auditor general.

READ MORE: Ontario government committee looking at province’s finances wants Wynne’s emails, records

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The auditor general’s report also highlights the millions Metrolinx paid to settle a legal battle with private companies building the Crosstown. In February 2018, the consortium of companies sued for compensation and a deadline extension. Metrolinx settled the suit for $237 million, money Lysyk notes could have been saved had the project been properly planned.

The purchasing of LRT vehicles was also poorly planned, according to Lysyk’s report. She notes Metrolinx committed to purchasing cars for the Eglinton Crosstown, Sheppard East, Finch West and Scarborough Rapid transit projects with specific delivery dates, but no construction contracts in place to build the projects. She says that resulted in $49 million in additional costs.

 Some highlights from the Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report:

– The number of people on social assistance has jumped by 25 per cent since 2009. In 2017-2018, more than 450,000 people received social assistance – at a cost of almost $3 billion – and in each of the last five years, only 10 to 13 per cent of recipients gained employment and left the program.

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– Costs for Ontario’s Student Assistance Program (OSAP) jumped by 25 per cent in 2017-2018 over the previous year, and Lysyk cautions the program costs could grow to $2 billion annually by 2020-2021.

– A series of changes to Metrolinx’ light-rail projects in the Toronto and Greater Hamilton Area cost $436 million. Lysyk blames the municipal and provincial governments for the loss, saying they made changes to a series of projects, including the Eglinton Crosstown and now-cancelled Scarborough LRT, after they’d been approved.

– Wait times for MRI and CT scans vary across the province. In 2017-2018, 90 per cent of non-urgent patients in one of health network waited up to 203 days for an MRI, and up to 127 days for a CT scan. If all 108 MRI machines in Ontario hospitals operated 16 hours a day, seven days a week, the province’s wait-time targets could be met.

– The former Liberal government spent $62 million in advertising in 2017-2018 – the most since 2006-2007 – and about 30 per cent of that spending was partisan in nature. Lysyk has asked the Tory government to restore her office’s powers so it has final approval over government advertising.

– Legal Aid Ontario spends $20 million a year fighting for clients trying to access, or appeal decisions, related to the Ontario Disability Support Program. Lysyk says it’s hard to justify the cost of the legal fights between different arms of government.

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– The Technical Standards and Safety Authority, or TSSA, which promotes and enforces public safety, is failing in nearly every aspect of its mandate. Most elevators are not in compliance with safety laws, and the agency relies on pipeline operators to conduct inspections of their own pipelines.

– The province is paying consultants to do work that could be done by full-time employees. In 2016, the Treasury Board compared the cost of information technology consultants to similar full-time staff and found that consultants cost government $40,000 a year more.

– Over the last five years, on average, the Ministry of Health reimbursed Ontario residents just five cents for every dollar they were billed by foreign doctors during out-of-country travel. Lysyk says the province should do more to ensure people know they are not fully covered for the cost of medical care when they travel outside of the province.

– Lysyk says stakeholders in the Waterfront Toronto-Sidewalk Labs smart-city project should take precautionary measures and conduct additional studies to decide whether the project, which has raised many privacy concerns, is in need of increased government oversight.

With files from The Canadian Press

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