The Ford government sent nearly $ 1 billion to companies that were not eligible for COVID-19 support or that lost less money than they received, the Auditor General notes

One makes mistakes when being too hasty.

Busy getting COVID-19 help out the door, Premier Doug Ford‘s government sent nearly $ 1 billion to thousands of companies that were not eligible for it or got more than their losses justified, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk accuses.

Lysyk found a “disturbing” absence of controls that resulted in the approval of “suspicious” applications – including from companies with addresses outside Ontario – due to a focus on speed and lack of verification.

As a result, she said, $ 210 million was spent on grants to small businesses that were not eligible for them, and $ 714 million was paid to cover losses that the businesses have not actually incurred.

“I understand that the government was dealing with an unprecedented crisis,” Lysyk wrote in his 1,300-page annual report, published Wednesday.

“But even in a crisis, systems should be in place to ensure that only qualified companies receive taxpayer dollars, and program funds reach those who need it most.”

Ford acknowledged its struggle to help small businesses, but stressed that they were in “desperate need” amid shutdowns and restrictions.

“Because of these grants, businesses are still running today,” he said in Mississauga, announcing plans to build a new Mississauga Hospital and expand the Queensway Health Center to Sherway Gardens as part of a 30-year plan of 30 , $ 2 billion. .

“Unfortunately, you’re going to see some scams.”

The auditor’s annual report also accused Ontario Cannabis Retail Corp. too weak controls to prevent minors from buying cannabis, lack of timely treatment for 60 percent of patients experiencing heart attacks, a mistake by the Ontario Securities Commission in charging $ 378 million in fines, lax oversight of private career colleges and “increasingly understaffed” departments of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Likewise, Lysyk criticized the progressive Conservative government’s frequent use of the minister’s zoning schemes to speed up local development, warning that the measures lack “transparency.”

She added that the controversial proposed Highway 413 from Highway 401 at Milton to Highway 400 in Vaughan is “inconsistent” with land use planning policies.

As for the pandemic payouts, she blew up Ford to exclude some companies in the residential, dry cleaning, laundry, manufacturing, transportation, logistics, wine and brewery sectors, while others got money they should not have.

For example, $ 210 million in Ontario small business grants went from $ 10,000 to $ 20,000 to 14,500 small businesses that did not meet the eligibility criteria. The program was intended for companies that were to close during shutdowns or were severely restricted and lost more than 20 percent of their revenue.

“Given the amount of money, the absence of better controls or appraisal processes is worrying,” Lysyk said, noting that the government has written off the grants as non-recoverable.

It took until seven weeks after the launch of the program to set up a system to “mark” applications from companies with addresses outside Ontario, Lysyk noted.

Because small business grants started at $ 10,000, companies that lost less than that still received that amount – including some that lost as little as two cents or no revenue changes at all, resulting in overpayments of $ 714 million, the report said.

“Over 51,000 recipients received more than $ 939 million in grants compared to their total reported losses of $ 225 million,” Lysyk wrote, noting that the lucky companies accounted for 46 percent of the total number of applicants.

But Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli maintained that what the auditor calls a $ 714 million “overpayment” does not reflect the realities of the pandemic.

“The $ 225 million in losses represents only a month’s loss that these small businesses have suffered,” Fedeli said.

Another problematic aid program, the Ontario Together Fund, resulted in its share of disappointments, Lysyk said.

The fund was set up to provide companies up to $ 2.5 million each to create products such as fans, masks and disinfection equipment for the pandemic emergency response. A company that received $ 1.8 million went bankrupt and 15 out of 54 projects helped with the grants have been delayed and their products not yet ready for the market.

An additional $ 16 million was given in property taxes and energy cost rebates to companies that were not eligible, although $ 850,000 has since been recovered from 229 companies, the report said.

Lysyk’s audit does not mention, however alleged theft of $ 11 million in pandemic relief it has led to criminal charges against two Ontario bureaucrats who were fired in the wake of the scandal.

“I know there are problems,” she said. “We have been involved in the follow-up.”

Robert Benzie is the bureau chief of Star’s Queen’s Park and a reporter covering politics in Ontario. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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