TORONTO - Facing expense scandals at two provincial agencies, Premier Dalton McGuinty issued a stern warning Tuesday to top officials at all 600 Ontario agencies, boards and commissions to lead by example or face dismissal, just like the head of the province's lottery corporation.
Kelly McDougald, the CEO of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., was fired Monday - and the entire board of directors resigned - after expenses filed by senior staff were deemed "unacceptable" by the government.
"I have a particularly important message for the leadership of our agencies, boards and commissions: you must lead by example," McGuinty said at a news conference.
"If you doubt our commitment, take a look at the example of which we are making of OLG."
The auditor general will determine if any rules were broken at the lottery corporation when staff submitted claims for lavish restaurant and bar bills, gym and golf club memberships and even a $30 car wash.
McGuinty said employees who claimed unacceptable expenses "like personal items and alcohol for staff functions" will have to repay taxpayers.
"There are clear rules there. They've been there for some time," he said. "There are also clear public expectations."
Many private companies, but not all, are scaling back on expenses like club memberships and lavish restaurant meals, said Prof. Len Brooks, a specialist in business ethics at the University of Toronto.
"There's still the advertising-marketing crowd that have this history of spending lavishly, but more companies are restricting the gifts and meals and so forth," said Brooks.
"We all feel that governments and government agencies are spending our own money so we have a right to object."
The premier did the right thing in aiming his message at the leaders of the agencies, said Brooks. But he said the government also had to admit that its policies led to the problems in the first place.
"There's an issue of policy here that they need to accept the responsibility for," he said.
McGuinty announced that workers at the largest 23 arms-length agencies will have to submit expense claims to the integrity commissioner rather than having them approved in-house.
The opposition parties were demanding McGuinty fire the cabinet minister responsible for the lottery corporation, something they complained he failed to do during a similar scandal at eHealth Ontario, the agency responsible for electronic health records, this summer.
"The premier talked about the need for the heads of these agencies to be responsible (but) I think ultimately ministers need to be responsible, and we didn't see that yet again," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said making the minister take responsibility would send a wake-up call to other politicians.
"You put a minister's head in the chopping block and that sends a message awful darn quick to the others to get their acts cleaned up," said Hudak.
McGuinty said taxpayers are most concerned with making sure expense abuses don't happen again.
"Just because you operate at arm's length from our government doesn't give you the right to straight-arm taxpayers," he said.
The Tories and NDP said the Liberals released expense claims from lottery executives only because journalists and the opposition parties had already submitted Access to Information requests.
"Dalton McGuinty, please spare me the phoney remorse," said Hudak.
"The only reason he came forward today was because yet again, like eHealth, he got caught."
The Liberal government needs to admit that these problems occurred under its watch, said Horwath.
"The only time that we see them taking responsibility is when their hands are already in the cookie jar, and that's completely unacceptable," she said.
McGuinty bristled at suggestions his government had failed to properly control the spending of taxpayers' dollars, and blamed the problem on the arms-length agencies funded by the province.
"There haven't been that many stories about my ministers or my political staff when it comes to government expenses," he said.
"The challenge is: what about all those agencies, boards and commissions that operate at arms length from the government. What do we need to do to bring them to heel?"
McGuinty personally apologized for the problems at eHealth earlier this summer, but he declined to offer a similar mea culpa Tuesday over the problems at the lottery corporation.
The government moved Monday to try to stop the lottery story from playing out over days and weeks like the eHealth scandal did by releasing thousands of pages of expense claims all at once, something it didn't do until several weeks into the scandal at eHealth.
Revelations of inappropriate expenses claimed by highly paid consultants at eHealth and $16 million in untendered contracts given to consulting companies are being investigated by the provincial auditor general, but the Liberals cancelled a promised third-party review.