December 12, 2012
Crime rates fall but OPP costs soar: Auditor general
By Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief
Crime rates are falling and it’s taxpayers that are being punished, auditor general Jim McCarter says in his annual report.
The cost of both the OPP and Ontario’s criminal prosecutions have soared over the years while offences, motor vehicle crashes and prosecutions have all dropped or plateaued, McCarter found.
“The number of Crown attorneys and staffing costs have more than doubled since our last audit of the Criminal Law Division in 1993, but the total number of criminal charges has barely changed at all,” McCarter says.
“Although crime rates and serous motor vehicle accidents have been declining for a number of years, the OPP expenditures continue to increase at well above the inflation rate.”
McCarter found numerous problems with the way the OPP deploys its officers — 45% of detachment staff don’t do front-line work — salaries are third-highest in the country and overtime costs are soaring.
In one example, McCarter said 200 OPP vehicles can’t be located.
Youth Justice Services too have increased in cost by 25% since 2005-06 while the number of youths served rose just 4%.
Those are just some of the key observations McCarter made in this year’s report, which also probed the province’s performance on tax collection, cancer screening, Aboriginal education and long-term care.
McCarter found taxpayers are owed $2.46 billion in uncollected taxes — 90% of that corporate and retail sales tax — but collectors rarely make face-to-face contact to ask for the money and typically take seven months just to get in touch by phone.
Up to $1.4 billion of the total outstanding may have to be written off and Ontario may not even have the legislative ability to pursue out-of-province tax deadbeats.
And 13 years after the controversial Drive Clean program began, McCarter says it’s having little impact on reducing emissions.
Drive Clean was supposed to drive down smog by forcing poorly maintained and high-polluting cars off the road, but McCarter says more than 75% of the drop in emissions has come from better cars and cleaner fuel.
New equipment the program will start using in 2013 can’t even look at cars made before 1998, he notes.
Major transit projects overseen by Metrolinx are also having trouble controlling cost overruns, McCarter said.
The Presto fare card, for example, could cost up to $700 million, making it among the most expensive fare card systems in the world — and it’s rollout across the GTA has been slow and bumpy.
The report also raises concerns over whether the Union-Pearson Air Rail Link will attract enough riders to break even.
In health care, McCarter said Cancer Care Ontario has set up three good screening programs for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer but not enough of the at-risk population are taking part.
There’s also a need for greater oversight of the 800 independent health facilities offering diagnostic services.
McCarter says the health ministry believes up to 20% of tests done in private labs are unnecessary.
Half of all such labs are owned by doctors but the ministry hasn’t analyzed what doctors refer patients to their own facilities.
There are problems too with the $741-million diabetes strategy, which McCarter said devoted just 3% of funds to prevention, despite 90% of cases being preventable.
McCarter also found that even though eHealth Ontario hasn’t paid a contractor any money after it failed to deliver on a planned electronic diabetes registry, the agency and the health ministry still racked up $24.4 million in internal costs.
In education, the report says Aboriginal students are still dropping out at an unacceptably high rate and no substantial progress has been made since a policy framework was set up five years ago to address the issue.
School boards are not assessed or being asked to report on their performance under the framework, McCarter said.