TORONTO – So, you say you’re seeing a light at the end of the long, dark gas plant tunnel? I have bad news. It’s an Ontario Northland ghost train coming at you. And it’s burning your dollars just as fast as the gas plants did. Shutting down the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) is turning into the next $1-billion boondoggle.
In its 2012 budget, then-finance minister Dwight Duncan announced the government would sell off ONTC — shutting down a northern Ontario transportation lifeline. At the time, the government said they’d save nearly $266 million over the next three years. Provincial auditor general Bonnie Lysyk released her annual report Tuesday.
Turns out that we were being — how shall I put it — oh, railroaded. Like a scene from an old movie, taxpayers were tied to the tracks and run over by a slow-moving train. It’s not going to save any money. In fact, we’re going to be on the hook for some rich buyout packages.
“The known costs may be as high as $820 million, and recouping this amount by the government no longer paying the ONTC the normal annual operating and capital subsidies it has been providing could well take a decade or longer,” the report says.
It turns out the government hadn’t bothered to factor in severance payments to employees.
And they’re rich.
Under their collective agreement, 347 employees who’d been working at ONTC since 1996 would get 14 years of severance at 100% of pay.
Yep, that’s right. It will take 14 years to buy them out.
“According to estimates provided by ONTC management, an employee qualifying for the maximum wage-continuation benefit would be entitled to total compensation averaging more than $800,000 on termination of employment,” said the report.
My, that’s one sweet deal.
Tory finance critic Vic Fedeli says the announcement the government was shutting down ONTC might just as well have been written on the back of a napkin.
They didn’t discuss their plans with any of the mines or logging operations in the north — for whom ONTC was vital.
They didn’t ask people in northern Ontario whether they needed the train to get to medical appointments, to visit family, to conduct business.
“They went ahead with this announcement without consulting key stakeholders,” Fedeli told reporters.
“They never talked to anybody. Not one of their customers throughout the north.”
What rankles most for northerners is they see the government pouring billions into Metrolinx for subway expansion and streetcars for the GTA and Ottawa, but the one link they have that keeps them in touch with the rest of the world has been axed.
Not only will it not save any money, it’s turning into a financial nightmare.
Only the Liberals could shut down a service and have it cost taxpayers more.
This is the government that can’t add straight.
Lysyk points out the value of the train is not one that’s measured in dollars and cents.
There’s the people factor at work here. People in the north needed that train.
And the government, it turns out, completely misled everyone on the costs involved.
Where have we heard that before?
Oh, right. The gas plants, where they promised that not building a gas plant would cost $30 million — and it ended up costing $1.1 billion to scrap two of them.
Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli told us last week that cancelling the gas plants was the equivalent of a cup of coffee at Tim Hortons every day.
Well, I don’t know where he’s buying billion-dollar double-doubles.
Me? I’m going to Tims for an Ontario Northland special.
For $820 million, I think they might throw in some Timbits.
For the original version of this article, click here: http://www.torontosun.com/2013/12/10/taxpayers-run-over-by-liberals-ontario-northland-boondoggle