Since 2007 the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) has been funded through general revenue, not, as many still believe, through windfall profits from gambling. It is therefore more insulting to hard-working people who would never consider throwing their money away at gaming to have government throwing their money away for them, and as the Auditor reported earlier this week, not even getting proper receipts…
As outlined in the memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture , the OTF’s mandate is to “provide funds in a fair and cost-efficient manner, with community involvement in decision-making, and by way of supplementing rather than replacing regular sources of income, to eligible charitable and not-for-profit organizations in Ontario […] to help finance through time-limited, results-oriented grants, programs undertaken by such organizations; and to help finance initiatives that increase organizational and/ or community capacity and self-reliance.” Yet the Internal Audit Division of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture had not conducted any recent audits of the Foundation’s operations.
In the 2010/11 fiscal year, the OTF from total funding of about $124 million paid out about $111 million in grants to charitable and not-for-profit organizations working in the areas of human and social services, arts and culture, environment, and sports and recreation. Most of the grant money went to pay the salaries and wages of people working in these organizations, the remainder covered program administration.
The Auditor set out methodically with the reasonable objective of assessing whether adequate policies and procedures were in place at the OTF to ensure that:
• approved grants were consistent with the Foundation’s mandate, in amounts that were commensurate with the value of the goods and services provided by the grant recipients, and that they were spent for their intended purpose; and
• costs were incurred and managed with due regard for economy and efficiency, and the effectiveness of the Foundation was appropriately evaluated and reported on.”
Findings indicate disregard for accountability, at every level, such that even where proper policies are in place, procedures are so lax that it becomes impossible to judge the merits of projects or their performance. The devil is in the details the Auditor found:
“The solicitation of applications by staff and the Foundation’s volunteers, including grant-review team members, also raises the issue of potential conflict of interest as the same people who invite certain groups to apply for grants, or who tell them about the program, later review those applications and determine who gets funding.
We noted, for example, that two board members also own consulting businesses that provide service to the not-for-profit sector. We examined one of the businesses and found that of the 11 projects listed on its website, six had received Foundation grants during the time the owner was on the Foundation board. One of the grants included money for consulting services bought from the board member’s business. Although we understand that the consultant’s business got the contract only after a formal bidding process, arrangements of this nature run the risk of being viewed as a conflict of interest.
Based on the available information, we were often unable to determine for ourselves whether the grant amounts were commensurate with the services to be provided because we could not assess either the reasonableness of the specific services or deliverables the organizations proposed to provide, or the work required to meet the objectives”.
The response from the OTF, with self-justifying references to “our new on-line grants-management system” which was developed and tested in fiscal year 2008/09 and fully implemented in March 2010, seems more excuse than contrition. This impression is re-enforced by the cherry-picked list of the Auditor’s comments on the OTF website which do not add up to the whole sordid truth but instead a deliberate deceit to mask flagrant breaches in accountability such as a grant of $73,000 for air quality testing, $31,000 for salaries and $23,000 for equipment which resulted in records of only 8hrs of visits to two schools over the course of one year and equipment not located at audit.
In the context of government spending is $124 million chump change, or should it be considered slush money for the billions of wasted dollars which the Auditor discovered have disappeared down the slippery slope of renewable energy? Trillium funding has found its way into the coffers of many politically active ENGOs such as Sierra Club, Environmental Defence and the Suzuki Foundation, according to research by Financial Post contributor Parker Gallant. Bruce Lourie, Director of the Ontario Power Authority AND Trillium Foundation has also been listed as Director and past President of Environmental Defence, President of Ivey Foundation and founder of Canadian Grant-makers Network.
If the electricity connection is still not strong enough for you, there is the Ontario Sustainable Electricity Association. Among the group’s funding sources, OSEA lists three government organizations, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and the Ontario Trillium foundation. Kris Stevens, executive director of OSEA said in an interview regarding a $200,000 pre-election advertising campaign “We’re not for or against any party, we’re for a policy.” Nonetheless, locally Lake Superior Action Research Conservation members witnessed OSEA’s Harry French exhorting the audience at a Soo Sustainable event, erroneously since the NDP also support the subsidies to renewables, to vote Liberal because they are the only ones who support the FIT.
The Auditor also had something to say about the Liberal’s compliance with the Government Advertising Act. Despite the fact that a newspaper advertising campaign using the 10% rebate on electricity bills under the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit was seen to have, contrary to Sect 6(1)5 of the Act, the primary objective of fostering a positive impression of the government party, the Ministry of Energy saw fit to compel utilities, just prior to the election, to include an insert with their bills, which similarly touted the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit. Such inserts are not subject to the Act but since they would not likely have been approved and they arrived in mailboxes less than a month before the election they could reasonably be seen as an attempt to violate the intent of the Act. Such behaviour only adds to the impression that provincial politics is becoming more of a pig wrestle than honest policy debate.
Beware Liberal MPPs bringing back the pork lest they besmirch with grease the good works done by real community groups.