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MPPs to revive bill banning challenges to auditor’s authority

France Gélinas and Jamie West brought forward the bill this spring on the same day AG released scathing preliminary report on Laurentian University, but it died on the order sheets shortly afterward due to impending provincial election
130422-bonnie lysyk auditor general
Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk.

Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas says a bill to eliminate any future challenges to the role or powers of Ontario’s auditor general could be reintroduced as early as next week.

On April 13, the same day Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk released her critical preliminary report on Laurentian University, Gélinas, along with fellow local NDP MPP Jamie West (Sudbury) introduced the bill in the legislature.

The local MPPs brought forward the bill after the insolvent Laurentian University, which was undergoing a value-for-money audit, challenged the authority of Ontario’s auditor general in the courts this past winter.

However, the bill died on the order papers in early May after the legislature was dissolved due to the impending provincial election.

The MPPs said they planned on reintroducing the bill on the auditor general’s powers if they were lucky enough to be re-elected June 2, which both Gélinas and West were.

Lysyk was tasked with a value-for-money audit of Laurentian University’s finances by the legislature’s Standing Commitee on Public Accounts last year. However, Laurentian refused to provide privileged (confidential) information to Lysyk’s audit team, saying they did not have to do so under provincial legislation.

Due to this dispute, Lysyk asked the courts for an interpretation of what is allowed for under the Auditor General Act. In January, a judge ruled that the act does not give AG the right to see privileged documents.

However, Laurentian did end up later having to hand over most of the requested documents after the legislature issued a rare Speaker’s Warrant.

Speaking to Sudbury.com this week, Gélinas said the province’s public accounts committee, of which she is a member, met for the first time on Monday since the June provincial election.

“There was a long talk from the auditor general for the need to change the Auditor General Act, and there was some interest from some of the new members on the public accounts committee,” Gélinas said.

She said she also plans on attending a national meeting this Sunday and Monday of politicians sitting on public accounts committees federally, as well as in the legislatures of all 10 provinces and territories, as well as auditors from other jurisdictions.

“A big part of the agenda is to talk about what happened at Laurentian University, and what happened with the challenge of the legislation,” Gélinas said.

The MPP says she wants to see if any of the people at the meeting have ideas for the bill to strengthen the Ontario auditor general’s powers.

“This being said, if we come back, and I'm satisfied that the version of the bill is the way it should be tabled, it could be tabled as early as next week,” Gélinas said.

Asked if she’s confident the bill will pass, Gélinas said there is definitely interest on the government site of the legislature for amendments to the Auditor General Act due to Laurentian’s actions.

She said if the ruling Progressive Conservatives were to take on the bill, it could pass into law quite quickly.

“And then we clarify everything forever, amen,” Gélinas said.

Lysyk said in January she was planning to appeal the court’s interpretation of the Auditor General’s Act. 

Gélinas said if the bill to change the AG’s powers were passed into law, it would eliminate the need for Lysyk’s appeal, and also save financially strapped Laurentian further lawyers’ fees.

As mentioned above, Lysyk already released an eight-page preliminary report on Laurentian University’s insolvency, with plans to put out a full report on the topic at a later date. 

She said in the scathing report LU’s creditor protection filing was “strategically planned” and the university “chose to take steps to file for creditor protection in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on February 1, 2021.”

Sudbury.com asked Gélinas for her prediction on when Lysyk might be planning to release her full report on Laurentian. The MPP said she’s expecting it to come out in the very early fall.

Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at Sudbury.com. She also covers education and the arts scene.