Tuesday, December 7, 2010



As one headline put it, "It's deja vu all over again for watchdog."
If only it was wrong. If only Auditor General Jim McCarter was wrong.
His latest report is the usual recitation of waste and inefficiency by the Ontario Government, just as the watchdogs that have come before, both at Queen's Park and at Ottawa, have been barking at bureaucratic stupidity and gross mismanagement since, it seems, we have had such watchdogs. Why doesn't someone bite?
Once upon a time, the legendary Casey Stengel, of wacky baseball memory, coined a wonderful expression after watching his players fail at every part of the game, including catching routine flies. "Can't anyone here play this game?" It's a question we should ask our (un)civil servants.
When it comes to adding 2 plus 2 and getting, maybe five, or six or seven, - or let's hire a consultant at $200 an hour and ask them - the boss bureaucrats of Canada have no peer. We goggle at the corruption in foreign governments and yet, at the end of the day, perhaps they spend less than ours do.
Let's deal with just one part of McCarter's report, the proof once again from yet another check on the functions of the government and its agencies that the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. couldn't give you the real market value of a doghouse, let alone your home.
So why is that important? Because MPAC provides the assessment figure, basically the market value of your home, which is a fundamental part of the determination of your municipal taxes that you pay directly on your home or indirectly through your rent. It's also important because it's hardly news that MPAC is screwing up. Just about everyone in government says so. Even the Ontario Ombudsman said so in 2006.
And if you don't believe me, or the government watchdog, or the ombudsman, just scan newspapers where they give you the basic real estate details on several featured houses, including taxes and what they sold for.
If you aren't shocked at how low the taxes are on some of those houses, compared to what you pay, or if you don't wonder at how high some of the taxes are, then you aren't reading the papers that I am.

McCarter reported that there were "substantial variations" between MPAC's assessment and actual resale prices. He said the selling price of one out of eight homes of the 11,500 sampled across the province differed from MPAC's figures by more than 20%. Half were way too low, meaning those lucky home owners are getting a bargain paid for by their neighbours, and half were way too high. There's a 12.5% chance that your property taxes are wrong.
The illustration to the left is borrowed from a public service union which was worried last year that its MPAC members would be blamed for bad service when the problem was caused by failures of too many computers. Which may explain my problems when I used a Mac in my dealings with the PCs of MPAC.
I have saved the most galling part of this ineptitude for last. No, not the questionable expenses on dinners, golf clubs, iPods... The auditor said that when MPAC was given the fieldwork figures by his staff, it chose not to investigate the reasons or to make adjustments.
I wrote a column on Nov. 7 titled MPAC's RUINING COTTAGE LIFE on how I had won two appeals against the agency's figures. I also wrote on Dec. 20, 2008, titled TAXING FOR THE FUTURE WHILE LIVING IN THE PAST. Then there was a column on Dec. 14, 2008, titled FAILING TO SUBTRACT WHILE ADDING IN COTTAGE TAXES.
Even though I achieved improvements, I found dealing with MPAC's staffers to be frustrating, confusing and a huge consumer of time and effort. Obviously Ontario's auditor general and his staff did too.

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