Auditor to probe ONTC sale – by Gord Young (North Bay Nugget – March 6, 2013)

Ontario’s auditor general will conduct an investigation of the Liberal government’s predicted savings from the divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli announced Wednesday that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts has voted to approve a motion directing the auditor to probe Liberal financial claims regarding the ONTC.

“This is a game changer,” said Fedeli. “We will now have an independent opinion as to whether the government is being honest when it claims it will see large savings through the sale of the ONTC.”

In light of the investigation, Fedeli said he is hopeful the Liberal government will “hit the pause button” on the divestment process pending the outcome, suggesting there is now a moral obligation to do so.

But there was no such commitment from Northern Development Minister Michael Gravelle in a statement issued later in the day.

“Our government remains committed to a divestment process that makes sense and facilitates community involvement,” said Gravelle. “We will take our time to do it right; to ensure a sustainable transportation system for Northern Ontario and to get the best value for Ontarians.”

Gravelle said he is currently working with his senior officials to set up a minister’s advisory committee consisting of Northern representatives to provide an opportunity for key stakeholders to provide him with insight in terms of the best way to move forward.

“We are pleased that the auditor general has agreed to look at the ONTC divestment and its operations, we look forward to his report,” he said.

Fedeli said the auditor has indicated that the probe is expected to be completed during the summer and presented to the legislature in the fall.

Fedeli maintains that there will be no savings as a result of divestment when all the issues surrounding pensions owed to former employees, severance packages, ongoing subsidies for the Polar Bear Express and smaller bus routes and environmental liabilities are considered.

He said it’s possible that severance packages associated with divestment of the ONTC could alone total $450 million.
“The auditor now has the ability to look at the liabilities the government will face if they continue with their fire sale, and tell us just how much those will really cost,” said Fedeli.

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