Ford government failed to follow expert advice on road projects, auditor general finds | Rare Techy


A new report by Ontario’s auditor general found the Ford government ignored advice from internal experts when making key decisions about building or expanding the province’s highways.

Ontario’s auditor general found in an annual report that the Ford government decided to freeze six highways that were already funded — including two in northern Ontario — in favor of four that the government had prioritized.

The report also found that the province “did not provide a rationale” when it eliminated tolls from two Durham Region highways, confirming details previously reported by Global News.

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In 2019, the province classified the expansion of four provincial highways as priority projects, a decision that came at the expense of six projects already approved for construction.

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This decision by the transport minister’s office came despite the fact that four of the government’s priorities were ranked lower by internal technical staff, the auditor general found.

“The combined proposals exceeded the proposed 10-year budget by $245 million,” the report said.

It also noted that the government communicated priorities to ministry officials in meetings rather than in emails or letters, while “leaving an incomplete overview of how these decisions were made, by whom and why,” the auditor general said.

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The projects added by the government were extensions of Highway 401, Highway 3 and two sections of Highway 17. They got an average of 469 points. The deferred plans included Highway 401, Highway 416 and Highway 11 and received an average score of 560.

“We found that the government made several changes to highway priorities without having its experts review all the relevant facts,” Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk wrote in her annual report.

The report found that the postponement of six highway projects in favor of the other four resulted in $158 million in public money being moved from northern projects to southern Ontario.

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“Our audit found that Ontario does not yet have an overall long-term transportation strategy in place,” the report said.

The Auditor General said that according to the ministry, 2019 was the first time in a decade – from 2012 to 2022 – that the timing of new highway projects was not planned by technical experts.

Lysyk said it wasn’t the last.

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Infrastructure plans submitted for 2021/22 included three government priorities that experts at the time would not have pushed forward, according to the report. Those projects were the Bradford Bypass, listed as a medium priority, and extensions to both Highway 6 and Highway 40.

The report says the cost of the government’s current priorities for highways, including the 413, exceeds spending over the past decade, which was tied for roughly $8.1 billion.

The Bradford bypass and the 413 have been flashpoints for opposition parties and environmentalists.

Both the 413 freeway and the Bradford bypass were important parts of the PC Party’s 2022 re-election campaign. In the run-up to June 2022, Doug Ford – with the support of several major private sector unions – positioned his party as the only one to deliver on major construction projects.

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In its response to the Auditor General, contained in its annual report, the Ministry of Roads stated that it “is willing to take steps to implement the recommended action points in cases where the government’s goals do not align with the Ministry’s subject matter experts.

The same report found that the province removed tolls from two Durham highways earlier than planned and that the government did not prepare a case for speeding up the process.

Lysyk said the government “didn’t identify all the key risks of eliminating tolls.”

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As Global News previously reported, the province had originally planned not to remove tolls from the 412 and 418 highways until the budget was balanced.

Then, ahead of the 2022 election, the Ford government accelerated its timetable.

According to provincial documents, “the minister at the time commits to revisiting tolls when the budget is balanced.”

But as the Progressive Conservatives prepared to fight for a second straight mandate in June’s election, the province had a change of heart. In April, the province announced it would eliminate unfair tolls on the 412 and 418.

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According to two briefs obtained by Global News through a Freedom of Information request, then-Transportation Minister John Yakabuski and Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy discussed removing tolls on Oct. 22, 2018, with two Progressive Conservative MPPs from Durham Region.

The Department estimates the Auditor General estimates the lost toll revenue associated with these proposals to be $608 million over the next 30 years.

Lysyk noted that Ontario’s highways are the best-maintained in the country, with the lowest number of fatalities.

© 2022 Global News by Corus Entertainment Inc. department.


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