Health and Hydro, Quebec AG finds some big problems

In a report tabled at the National Assembly Wednesday, the province's Auditor General was singing a very familiar song to Quebecers.

One area where Guylaine Leclerc found a major issue was how some hospitals mismanage scheduling for surgery. 

"While the virulence of some diseases makes a quicker response more necessary, the Department's surgical wait time targets do not take into account the urgency in performing the surgery" the report said. "Furthermore, a substantial portion of oncology patients wait more than 28 days for surgery, which does not respect the target set by the Department."

The AG report is based on audits of three hospitals: the Jewish General Hospital, the Chicoutimi hospital, and the St. Jerome regional hospital.

The government spending watchdog also found it was near impossible to find an accurate picture of wait times for surgery.

"The statistic monitored by the Department regarding the wait time for surgery is a substantial but incomplete part of a patient's overall wait time" she wrote. "The data used to calculate this wait time are not reliable."

Leclerc said multiple information systems and databases were different from one institution to another, complicating the situation further.

"Making these systems integrated and compatible would improve the efficiency of the surgical trajectory."

The AG also noted that in two of the three hospitals audited the operating rooms were old and dilapidated with much of the equipment used nearing the end of its useful life.

In 2015-2016, approximately 635,000 surgeries were performed in Quebec at a cost of about $1.9 billion.

Calculating Hydro Rates Doesn't Add Up

Leclerc said the process for setting Hydro electricity rates is complex and evolving, but does not add up to the actual costs to produce electricity. Because of this Quebecers have overpaid $1.5 billion to Hydro-Quebec between 2005 and 2017.

The report also noted how government decisions have had a major impact on electricity rates.

These decisions include Orders in Council which require Hydro-Quebec to purchase electricity from wind farms and small dams run by private suppliers. 

This "post-heritage electricity" is given priority over the electricity Hydro generates itself at its dams in the James Bay and on the North Shore, despite it costing nearly four times as much.

Leclerc said the additional costs aren't covered by Hydro-Quebec, it's the taxpayer footing the bill.

"There are additional supply costs which we have estimated at $2.5 billion for the period from 2009 to 2016 which have been included in electricity rates."

The report also noted a recurring problem with the way the government adds up its numbers.

"We are of the opinion that the government's accounting practice with regard to the recognition of government transfers is not appropriate and does not give an accurate picture of its financial situation" it said. "Thus, according to our estimate, as of March 31, 2017, the net debt and accumulated deficits are understated by $9.6 billion, and the annual surplus is overstated by $215 million."

Leclerc said it's important to emphasize that these amounts could be higher, but the information needed to know the exact value is not available.