PCs demand Ontario stop WSIB from operating 'slush fund' to give grants to OFL

TORONTO – Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has operated a “slush fund” for years without proper oversight to make sure it’s getting value for money, the opposition Progressive Conservatives charged Tuesday.

The WSIB gave the Ontario Federation of Labour $12.3 million over 10 years to train workers and help prevent accidents, but a 2014 audit found the grant program’s “link to prevention is weak” and it should be shut down, said PC labour critic Randy Hillier.

“There has never been any oversight of this fund whatsoever, no applications, no reporting and zero value for money,” Hillier told the legislature. “KPMG has told you that this program is worthless. It’s just a slush fund for the OFL, and it’s political pressure on your ministry that is keeping that slush fund going.”

Documents obtained under freedom of information show some of the grant money was spent on car allowances, gym memberships and $44,000 for staff training sessions at the Bayview Wildwood resort in Muskoka, added Hillier.

“That’s where the money is going,” he said. “It’s not going to help injured workers.”

OFL president Sid Ryan said the labour group gets $800,000 from the WSIB each year to train workers to help colleagues injured on the job as they navigate the agency’s ‘quasi-judicial’ benefits system.

Ryan defended the gym memberships as a benefit negotiated into workers’ contracts 25 years ago, and said rooms for training sessions in Muskoka cost $130 a night for double occupancy, including all meals for two people.

“It’s hardly the picture he’s painting of union members living high on the hog,” he said.

The Tories are still fuming at organized labour for helping defeat them in last year’s general election, added Ryan.

“They’re smarting from that, no question, so they’re coming after the OFL,” he said. “It’s payback time.”

The WSIB said it took measures to strengthen its grant contracts in 2010 and did a value for money audit in 2012 that concluded the program “did exhibit value and produced notable results,” and it promised new rules for next year.

“The new grants program will ensure alignment with the WSIB’s strategic objectives,” WSIB spokeswoman Christine Arnott said in a statement.

Documents prepared by the WSIB for the FOI request showed there was “no clear focus” for the grant program.

“Attempts to discontinue funding or to increase oversight have been unsuccessful due to the political issues surrounding the grant,” it said.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said the WSIB did review its grant program and will introduce new guidelines to ensure it gets better value for money.

“There appeared to be information that came forward that said there was a better way of doing some of these things,” Flynn told reporters. “The WSIB had acted on them and will be implementing new guidelines in 2016.”

Flynn said “it’s out of the question” for anyone to expect government or its agencies to pay for things such as gym memberships in an era of restraint.

The WSIB said the OFL gets the largest single chunk of its accident prevention grants, roughly 29 per cent of the available money, or over $1 million a year.

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