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Provincial changes would open councils, school boards to Ombudsman oversight

Posted March 6, 2014

The provincial government announced this morning proposed legislation that would provide Ontario residents with a direct avenue to lodge complaints about municipal and school board governance issues with the Ombudsman as part of new municipal accountability measures and oversight.

According to details released this morning, the legislation would, if passed:
  • Extend the role of the Ontario Ombudsman to include municipalities, school boards and publicly funded universities
  • Establish a Patient Ombudsman to assist patients in resolving complaints against public hospitals, Long-Term Care Homes and Community Care Access Centres
  • Give the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth new powers, like those of the Ontario Ombudsman, to investigate matters relating to children and youth involved in the child protection system
  • Amend the Lobbyists Registration Act to improve reporting requirements for lobbyists, address conflicts of interest and increase fines for offences.
Last November, New Tecumseth retained the services of John Mascarin of Aird and Berlis to act as the Town's Integrity Commissioner to deal with complaints about council or municipal staff.  How the provincial legislation will impact on that position in New Tecumseth, whether it makes Mr. Mascarin's role redundant, is not clear at this time. The Ombudsman does not charge a fee to investigate complaints, while Mr. Mascarin's fee is $550 per hour.

The Association of Municipalties of Ontario (AMO) in a "breaking news" release noted its approval for the objective the legislation proposes, but opposes the provincial intrusion, and "rejects the Wynne Government's vision of how best to achieve it."
 
"The Ontario Government would layer Provincial oversight and new administrative processes on municipal government. It represents duplication and inefficiency, and importantly, it suggests that Wynne's Government does not trust in the capacity of municipal government to expose and address questions about performance and integrity," according to AMO. "Assigning oversight authority to the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman, a provincial appointee who is based at Queen's Park and who reports to Ontario's Legislature, has the effect of transferring local municipal accountability to the Province. AMO is curious to see whether the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats will support that, or reject the invitation to micromanage municipal government."
 
The legislative changes also target MPPs, including:
  • Requiring expense information for MPPs to be posted online for out-of-riding travel, hotels, meals and hospitality
  • Requiring expense information for Cabinet Ministers, Parliamentary Assistants, Opposition Leaders, and their respective staff to be posted online
  • Amending the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to require all organizations under the act to securely preserve their records.
Finally, it would increase transparency in classified agencies and the broader public service (BPS) by:
  • Authorizing the government to set compensation frameworks for senior executives in the BPS, including hard caps
  • Providing the Ontario Integrity Commissioner with the ability to review executive expenses in selected organizations to all 197 classified agencies and four hydro entities
  • Requiring BPS organizations to publish their business plans and other documents online.
In addition, the province would also implement the following non-legislative measures:
  • Post Cabinet Ministers' attendance records at Question Period
  • Seek consent from opposition House Leaders to improve how MPP voting records are posted online
  • Require all appointees and senior executives in classified agencies to post their expense information online.
There is no timeline attached to the government's announcement, which, as a minority in the legislature, requires opposition votes to approve it.

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