Premier Doug Ford launched the select committee on financial transparency with a fiery speech more than six months ago, promising an inquiry that would get to the bottom of “Liberal waste and scandal” and what he called “quite possibly the worst political coverup in Ontario’s history.”
But on Tuesday afternoon, the committee tabled its report without fanfare. It concluded what was already widely known at the outset: the former Liberal government ran afoul of the accounting standards held by the province’s auditor general, and its approach to electricity subsidies — known as the Fair Hydro Plan — came at a high cost to Ontarians and appeared to be politically motivated.
When Ford announced the committee in a special speech to his caucus last September, he seemed to promise much more. Not only would the committee uncover new information, he implied that those responsible for what happened would be held responsible.
“This was quite possibly the worst political coverup in Ontario’s history. Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals lied to all of us,” Ford had said. “And we all know that if you lie on your taxes, you lie on your mortgage, you lie on your car loan, there are consequences. You don’t just get to walk away.
“They do not just get to walk away from this, we will demand answers about where the money went,” he said. “A lot of the Liberals got rich, really, really rich, under Kathleen Wynne and off the backs of the taxpayers of Ontario.”
And he had implied that what happened was something like “fraud.”
“If you tried that, if you used these dirty accounting tricks in a business, if you tried this kind of cover up in the private sector the [Ontario Securities Commission] would come calling, the police would come calling,” Ford had said. “The only reason this is not fraud is the Liberals got to set their own accounting rules.”
The committee was comprised of a PC majority with an NDP minority and no Liberal members. The New Democrats wrote a dissenting opinion to the report — not disagreeing with the Tories’ finding that the Liberal government had “put partisan self-preservation ahead of the public interest,” but because they felt the government members had blocked their efforts to find a way to ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated in the future.
The select committee, and the testimony of 27 witnesses over 11 public hearings, was not required in order to reach the findings in the report, which had already been explored in reports by the auditor general and the Financial Accountability Office, the dissenting opinion said.
Sandy Shaw was one of the New Democrats on the committee. She recalled the premier’s “inflammatory” language at outset, but found the committee never went further than information that was already in the public domain.
“At the end of the day, there was no smoking gun,” she said.
The NDP had tried to use the committee to address other issues, including the use of public-private partnerships, carbon taxes and the sell-off of Hydro One, but found the Tory-dominated committee blocked their efforts, Shaw said.