By Sean Underwood
As a freshman member of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party, and one looking for a job, I was elated that the party, under my leadership, was made the official opposition for the first time in 16 years. It was a significant vote of confidence in my work ethic and ability to fight for my constituents and the party. However, I was in shock when I learned the weekend prior that the party had broken an election promise and that the government would work with Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals to keep both auditor generals from overseeing public spending.
It wasn’t a first for us. When we ran in 2014, the other parties ran against our pledge to restore the auditor general’s powers. The auditor general was a strong independent voice in government that held the government to account and was tasked with the important task of providing taxpayers with an unbiased analysis of public spending. With independent oversight, the public benefits from independent, science-based insights into the spending decisions made by government departments and agencies. The auditor general serves as a watchdog for taxpayers by examining the fine print behind government spending and issuing unbiased and objective recommendations for the system to operate more efficiently.
But last March, the PC party platform said it would amend the Public Works Act to restore the auditor general’s ability to regularly review government contracts, which makes up an enormous portion of public spending. The auditor general of Ontario has the ability to review every single contract worth over $25,000. However, in 2014, Bill 141 eliminated the auditor general’s ability to directly audit government contracts under $25,000. This was a great turn of events for government-controlled, private industry-dominated tenders.
I had listened to the other party members, and asked them to stand up and let us restore the auditor general’s oversight authority. We tried to get a commitment at the time, but I found it difficult to get other members of the party to speak up.
When we returned to office, PC caucus decided that one person could only replace one position on our management team. It did not feel right to ask one person to temporarily fill two positions, and it was also a difficult job to fill. However, PC caucus decided to go ahead with one person replacing two positions and I agreed.
With our internal process in place, many of us ran for and retained our positions on the PC party executive. I was only one of three current PC members whose positions were not reviewed for fresh candidates in the party caucus, and it was a decision I was most definitely disappointed in. The remaining nine PC members had to fight tooth and nail for their positions on the executive and some had to run unopposed. For me, a 25-year veteran of the party, this was a huge betrayal of trust. I was angry and disappointed and did what any other leader in the party would do: I immediately launched a public inquiry to address the breach of trust within our party, which I did on Monday.
This is far from the only broken promise I have seen made by our previous premier.
In fact, my office currently has three outstanding questions to former Premier Wynne’s cabinet. In 2014, under Ms. Wynne’s leadership, we failed to implement the PC party’s platform to reinstate the auditor general. Ms. Wynne left office not planning to address these outstanding questions, but on March 25, she did. The damage that has been done to the PC party has been incredible and it has shattered many of our bonds with those who did not vote for us on election day, and I owe many of those people an apology.
Ontario deserves better. The PC party has a long road ahead of us, but I will continue to work hard to support every person in this province who is struggling with their finances. It’s not my time to hang it up.