Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Selling off ONTC Could Cost Up to $820 Million and Possibly More: Auditor

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Selling off ONTC Could Cost Up to $820 Million and Possibly More: Auditor

Article excerpt

Selling off ONTC could cost $820 million

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TORONTO - Selling off the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission could cost as much as $820 million, rather than saving hundreds of millions as the governing Liberals had claimed, the province's auditor general said Tuesday.

That figure could climb even higher because not all the costs are known, such as the environmental cleanup of ONTC properties and consultations with First Nations, said auditor general Bonnie Lysyk.

"The government should have had an earlier and clearer picture of the true costs of divestment -- and it could have passed on this more accurate picture on to all Ontarians -- had it done more due diligence prior to announcing the divestment plan," Lysyk said following the release of her special report.

The Liberals didn't "clearly or fairly communicate" the full impact of selling the northern rail and bus transportation service when they hastily announced the money-saving measure in 2012, her report found.

The government said it would save taxpayers $265.9 million over three years, but didn't mention "significant" expenses or the $325 million they'd earmarked in the budget to cover some of the divestment costs, it said.

It will take 10 years or longer to reduce or recoup the costs, Lysyk said.

It's clear that the Liberals had no plan when it came to selling off the ONTC, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. They "made up" a figure to make it look like they were saving money.

"So they basically pulled a fast one on Ontarians," particularly those in northern Ontario, she said.

The "fire sale" of ONTC is similar to the rash decisions to cancel two gas plants before 2011 election that the auditor expects will cost taxpayers up to $1.1 billion, said Progressive Conservative Vic Fedeli.

Unlike the gas plants, the government isn't on the hook yet for the costs of divesting the ONTC, he said. But the Liberals still made the decision without consulting anyone.

"We hear one thing in the legislature -- open and transparent and consultations -- but in reality, they do not do that," he said.

"They bullied their way through with this announcement. …

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