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Province’s chief accountant quit after refusing to sign off on Fedeli’s $15 billion deficit figure

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The Ontario government’s chief accountant resigned earlier this fall because she refused to sign off on Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s inflated $15 billion deficit, the Star has learned.

Cindy Veinot, the provincial controller, quit in September because she “did not agree with accounting decisions made by the current government.”

“I believe that the consolidated financial statements of the province of Ontario as issued … materially overstate the deficit of the province for the year,” she said in a submission to the legislative “transparency” committee examining the province’s books.

Veinot, a civil servant, has declined to speak publicly, but the Star obtained her 12-page summary that was sent to the standing committee on Tuesday.

That committee, which is dominated by Progressive Conservative MPPs, has repeatedly blocked efforts by NDP MPPs on the panel to call Veinot as a witness.

Her searing unsolicited report to the committee appears to underscore their caution.

The controversy centres mostly around whether $11 billion of government money in the co-sponsored Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union Pension Plan and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan can be counted as a government asset on the books.

Veinot, a leading expert on pension accounting who finished first among 63,000 candidates in the 1998 certified public accountants exam in the U.S., contends the holdings are an asset.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk — and her predecessors — used to count them as such. However, Lysyk changed her tune in 2015 and no longer does.

In contrast to the previous Liberal government, the new Progressive Conservative administration sided with the auditor general over the provincial controller.

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That decision has ballooned the deficit by about $5 billion so it now sits at $14.5 billion.

“At this point, we consider it resolved. We’re very happy with the accounting decisions,” Lysyk said Wednesday after tabling her annual report to the legislature.

Still, tensions between the two high-ranking number crunchers linger.

Veinot maintains Lysyk resorted to “personal attacks, disparaging comments about the professional services firm at which I was a partner (Deloitte), and threats” at a meeting on Sept. 27, 2016.

“What I witnessed in that meeting and subsequently documented the next day was but an introduction to what I would witness during the two years I worked for the OPS (Ontario public service),” she wrote.

Asked specifically about Veinot’s allegations, Lysyk was reluctant to discuss relations with the former controller.

“You know, I prefer not to,” the auditor general said.

“This is not a personal thing … this is the province’s financial statements,” she said, emphasizing their accounting disagreements over the pension assets and the Liberals’ “fair hydro plan” electricity subsidies.

When asked about Veinot’s sudden departure, Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy said he “can’t comment on the person involved.

“I’m not going to comment on the comings and goings of people within government,” said Bethlenfalvy.

Fedeli, for his part, denied that he has artificially inflated the deficit, pointing to the independent commission, led by former B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell, the Tories struck to examine the books.

“I can tell you that the auditor general supplied information for the independent commission and that $5 billion we accept that decision,” the finance minister said, noting the auditor general signed off on the books for the first time in three years even though the controller refused to do so.

But Fedeli declined to weigh in on Veinot’s departure.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it’s curious that the Tory MPPs on the legislative committee have derailed New Democratic attempts to get her at committee.

“I would suspect that they would have some concerns about what she might say,” said Horwath.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said it is significant that a provincial controller has not signed off on the province’s public accounts for the first time ever.

“For her not to appear before the committee means the government is hiding something.”

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



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Anglais

A stunning Water Lantern Festival is coming to Montreal

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What might just be the most magical night ever is coming up for Montreal this year.

The Water Lantern Festival has announced that it will be gracing Mississauga with thousands of floating lanterns later this year, as part of a celebration that spans the entire world.

According to the festival’s official website, the event is a celebration of life with proceeds going towards charities and non-profit organizations within the area.

“Water Lantern Festival brings together individuals from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life to join in one emotional and memorable night. At the Water Lantern Festival, we cherish these moments and will do our best to help you have a memorable experience that you’ll never forget as you witness the beauty of thousands of lanterns reflecting upon the water,” the website states.

The festival takes place throughout multiple cities around the world, with the Canadian cities of Quebec, Regina, Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa, Mississauga, and, of course, Montreal taking part.

For the Calgary event, a date has been confirmed and tickets are already rolling out. Montreal shan’t be far behind, and you can click the Notify Me tab on the event’s site to be kept in the loop.

Expect an evening filled with food trucks, music, lantern designing and finally, a magical launch of the lanterns into the water as the sun goes down.

For our pals over in Calgary, their event includes a floating lantern, a commemorative drawstring bag, a marker, and a wristband. Expect something similar, if not the same, when more details float through about Montreal’s event.

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Euthanasia order on hold for Montreal dog that attacked children

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A pit bull dog that attacked four children and two adults in August 2018 in Montreal North will not be euthanized in the immediate future.

The euthanasia order has been temporarily suspended pending the appeal of a Quebec Superior Court decision.

On Tuesday, Judge Lukasz Granosik rejected a request to halt the euthanasia order issued by the Montreal North borough, which declared the animal a “dangerous dog.”

The City of Montreal has not changed its mind. This is only a delay before it proceeds with euthanizing the dog, a source told the Canadian Press.

Shotta, the one-year-old dog, was in the care of its owner’s acquaintance in August 2018. The dog attacked four children and two adults, causing serious injuries in separate incidents on the same day.

After the attacks, the dog was taken from the home and entrusted to the SPCA.

WATCH: Dog found dead in Angrignon Park

The Road to Home Rescue Support, an American shelter, asked the court if it could take in the dog. Christa Frineau, the dog’s owner, had also asked that Shotta not be euthanized.

Granosik refused to grant the request.

—With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise

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Anglais

9 Things To Do In Montreal This Friday, Saturday & Sunday

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Today’s sunny skies have me itching to make weekend plans. I absolutely cannot wait to make the most of this warmer weather. This might be the time to inflate my bike tires and dust off my running shoes…

Whether you want to brush up on your cooking skills, let loose, or fill your stomach with amazing food, there’s an event out there for you. Read on for 9 fun things you can do with friends or a fling this weekend.

TL;DR Read on for 9 fun things you can do in Montreal this weekend.

Let Yourself Go At Dress Up

Where: 185 Avenue Van Horne, Montréal.

When: Friday, March 29, 9:00 p.m.

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