Ombudsman André Marin looks forward to his new...
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Dec 09, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Ombudsman André Marin looks forward to his new powers

Ombudsman André Marin is eager to flex his new legislative muscles

OurWindsor.Ca

A swaggering Ontario ombudsman André Marin is eager to flex his new legislative muscles.

The sometimes combative Marin and his office were the big winners Tuesday when the legislature — save for the New Democrats — passed Bill 8, the Accountability and Transparency Act, which, among other things, gives the ombudsman expanded oversight over municipalities, university and school boards.

“We intend to drive it to the max . . . ,” he told reporters minutes after the bill passed third reading, adding that the ombudsman’s office has been clamouring for 39 years to have the right to investigate complaints at these levels.

“As of the implementation of this bill we’ll be overseeing 443 municipalities . . . as well as 83 school boards and 22 universities representing roughly $30 billion in provincial expenditures that up until now have been going under the radar,” he said.

The mini-omnibus bill also gives the government greater say over public sector compensation — particularly at the most senior levels — and requires cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants, opposition leaders and their respective staff to post their expenses online.

“This is a signature piece of legislation that sets a high standard for oversight across the public sector and is part of Ontario’s commitment to be the most open and transparent government in the country,” Treasury Board president Deb Matthews said.

Marin’s sights are particularly set on municipal councils, which he described a year ago as being addicted to secrecy. And even though Toronto has its own ombudsman, he will still wield a certain degree of oversight over Canada’s largest city if the municipal ombudsman refuses to investigate a complaint.

And scandal-plagued Brampton, he said, “is definitely on the radar screen at the request of the (new) mayor” Linda Jeffrey.

“I think history has shown . . . that municipalities need all the help they can get. This is an area fraught with controversy, conflict of interest, low oversight, whether it’s Brampton, Mississauga, Toronto, Sudbury and London. The list goes on,” he said.

As recently as July, municipalities made it clear they didn’t want Marin to stick his nose in their business.

Notably, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) highlighted on its website that municipalities will be able to apply to a court to determine whether the Ontario Ombudsman has jurisdiction to investigate a complaint.

With the ombudsman’s additional responsibilities comes the need for more money and staff, Marin said. “We are basically doubling the jurisdiction of the office from 500 different provincial bodies by adding another 549 bodies,” said Marin, whose office budget last year was $11.2 million.

It’s no secret that Marin really wanted to bring hospitals within his purview, but the government decided instead to appoint a patient ombudsman, who will not be an independent officer of the legislature such as Marin is.

“This bill is not my bill . . . it’s not the way I would have written obviously but that being said, it’s Christmas time and you’ve got to accept the gifts you get and not look for the gifts you didn’t get,” he said.

Tory Leader Jim Wilson said regardless of who does it, it’s time for “more oversight for our hospitals and it’s time that they were transparent, particularly around salaries and value for money.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her members opposed the bill because it has some “fundamental flaws.”

“We don’t see hard caps on executive salaries . . . . We don’t see an independent advocate for patients. We are the only province in Canada that does not have an independent (patient) ombudsman . . . and of course we still have a child advocate that doesn’t have the power to be able protect the most vulnerable children in Ontario.

“For those three reasons this bill falls terribly, terribly short,” she said.

The government contends the bill does expand the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth’s mandate, providing oversight and new powers to investigate children’s aid societies.

Toronto Star

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