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Ontario Ombudsman welcomes historic expansion of mandate (and so does AWARE Simcoe)

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In Adjala-Tosorontio
Dec 9th, 2014
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Public will be able to flle complaints about municipalities, universities, school boards (but not Conservation Authorities!)

Ontario Ombudsman news release

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin today welcomed the historic passage of a new law that will allow his office to investigate complaints about municipalities, universities and school boards for the first time.

“Today, Ontario takes a great step forward in ensuring accountability in the broader public sector,” said Mr. Marin. “It has been almost 40 years since the province’s first Ombudsman, Arthur Maloney, called for these institutions to face the same scrutiny as other provincially-funded bodies.

“This new legislation was driven by the people of Ontario, who increasingly became troubled by being dead-last when it came to holding the broader public sector accountable. This was reflected in the number of petitions and private member’s bills introduced over the years, calling for Ombudsman oversight of the MUSH sector.”

Bill 8, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014, was passed on third reading in the Legislature this morning. It will also create a separate Patient Ombudsman within the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and empower the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth to investigate children’s aid societies.

Mr. Marin noted that Bill 8 will double the agencies his office oversees by adding some 548 bodies (443 municipalities, 22 universities, 83 school boards) to the 500-plus provincial ministries, agencies, boards, corporations, commissions and tribunals already within his mandate. Although the bill was amended to say the Ombudsman will not oversee matters dealt with by the City of Toronto Ombudsman, his office will still be able to conduct “own-motion” investigations, including systemic investigations, relating to Toronto.

“We will bring the same independent scrutiny to municipalities, universities and school boards that we have provided to provincial government bodies for nearly 40 years,” Mr. Marin said. “We look forward to finally being able to help the thousands of complainants who have come to us from these sectors.”

Bill 8’s provisions relating to the Ombudsman Act bring Ontario closer in line with the rest of Canada. All other provincial and territorial ombudsmen have had jurisdiction in the “MUSH” sector (comprising municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals and long-term care homes, children’s aid societies and police) for years.

Since 2005, the Ombudsman’s office has tracked the complaints from the MUSH sector that it has been forced to turn away – 21,752 in total (as of November 30). The number of MUSH complaints per year has more than doubled since 2005. In that time, municipalities accounted for 9,316 complaints; some 405 were about universities and 1,019 related to school boards. They ranged from basic customer service problems to allegations of conflict of interest, corruption and other complex systemic issues. Some 130 petitions and 18 private member’s bills calling for the extension of the Ombudsman’s mandate have been tabled in the Legislature since 2005.

Mr. Marin noted that his office will serve, as it always has, as a last resort – referring complaints for resolution by existing authorities wherever possible. “We will be happy to work with local watchdogs where they exist, and refer complaints to be resolved at the ground level whenever appropriate, just as we have always done with provincial agencies,” Mr. Marin said. “We are there to root out the thorny, systemic problems and find solutions that benefit everyone, not to duplicate the work of existing officials.”

The Ombudsman’s new jurisdiction will take effect on a date to be determined by the government once the provisions of the new legislation are proclaimed in force. Members of the public who wish to make complaints relating to municipalities, universities and school boards should continue to check the Ombudsman’s website and social media for updates.

The Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario is an independent office of the Legislature that resolves individual complaints and conducts systemic investigations relating to problems with government services. Recommendations stemming from the Ombudsman’s dozens of systemic investigations have prompted such broad government reforms as life-saving newborn screening, stronger lottery security, improved compensation for crime victims, better access to drug funding and fairer property tax assessments. The Ombudsman is also the investigator for complaints about closed meetings in municipalities that have not appointed their own. In 2013-2014, his office received 26,999 cases.

Legislation approved that opens municipal governments to Ombudsman’s reach

New Tecumseth Free Press Online

The provincial government passed third reading of legislation this morning that expands the role of Ontario’s Ombudsman’s office to investigate complaints lodged against municipalities, school boards, and universities. Until now, the Ombudsman’s powers were limited to provincial agencies.

“We will bring the same independent scrutiny to municipalities, universities and school boards that we have provided to provincial government bodies for nearly 40 years,” said Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin. “We look forward to finally being able to help the thousands of complainants who have come to us from these sectors.”

The Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014 also gives the government the ability to control the compensation of executives in broader public sector service organizations such as Ornge, eHealth, Metrolinx, OLG and the LCBO.

In addition, the legislation will:

  • Require cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants, opposition leaders and their respective staff to post their expenses online, making Ontario a leader in expense reporting.
  • Require the Speaker to post online MPP expense information for out-of-riding travel, hotel accommodation related to that travel, meals and hospitality.
  • Allow the government to appoint a Patient Ombudsman to respond to complaints about public hospitals, long-term care homes, and community care access centres.
  • Expand the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth’s mandate, providing oversight and new powers to investigate children’s aid societies.
  • Give the government greater oversight of air ambulance service providers, including the ability to appoint members to the board of directors as well as supervisors and special investigators and measures to protect whistleblowers.
  • Modernize lobbyist registration by requiring businesses and organizations to register when their staff spend at least 50 hours per year lobbying government and provide the Ontario Integrity Commissioner as Lobbyist Registrar with investigative powers and the ability to impose penalties, including prohibiting individuals from lobbying for up to two years.

Last summer, New Tecumseth council joined the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) in opposing the proposed legislation to expand the Ombudsman’s authority.

According to AMO’s review of the amended Bill 8,

  • If a municipality does not appoint a municipal ombudsman, the Ontario Ombudsman will become the default municipal ombudsman.
  • If a municipality appoints a municipal ombudsman, the Ontario Ombudsman may investigate the same complaint as the municipal ombudsman if the municipal ombudsman has refused to investigate the complaint; the municipal ombudsman has investigated and concluded his or her investigation of the complaint; or the time for bringing the complaint to the municipal ombudsman has expired. In addition, the Ontario Ombudsman will be able to conduct “systemic” investigations on his own motion.
  • The Ontario Ombudsman will be able to investigate complaints that are within the jurisdiction of a municipal auditor general, registrar, or a municipal integrity commissioner if the municipal auditor general or integrity commissioner refuses to investigate, has completed and concluded his or her investigation, or the time for bringing a complaint has expired.
  • Any party directly affected by an investigation by the Ontario Ombudsman will be able to apply to a court to determine whether the Ontario Ombudsman has jurisdiction to investigate.
  • The existing closed meeting investigation regime will be maintained. The Ontario Ombudsman will continue to be the default closed meeting investigator where a municipality has not appointed a closed meeting investigator. The review provision of another closed meeting investigator’s decision by the Ontario Ombudsman was deleted. The definition of meeting will fall to the Municipal Act review.
  • The Patient Ombudsman will be appointed for one five-year term, renewable for one further term of five years.
  • Caregivers will be able to make complaints to the Patient Ombudsman. “Caregiver” will be defined in regulation.
  • AMO will seek input on the regulations to this Bill

Province passes legislation to strengthen accountability

Open Government Initiative Raising the Bar on Oversight and Transparency Across the Public Sector

Ontario government news release

Today, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014 passed third reading in the Ontario legislature. Part of Ontario’s Open Government initiative, this act strengthens political accountability, makes the business of government more transparent, and gives Officers of the Legislature more responsibility in their roles.

The legislation will provide more oversight over and accountability at arms-length government entities, ensuring tax dollars are spent wisely as the government delivers on its commitment to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18. In addition, this act will give the government the ability to control the compensation of executives in broader public sector service organizations such as Ornge, eHealth, Metrolinx, OLG and the LCBO.

In addition, the legislation will:

  • Expand the Ontario Ombudsman’s role to include municipalities, school boards and publicly-funded universities.
  • Require cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants, opposition leaders and their respective staff to post their expenses online, making Ontario a leader in expense reporting.
  • Require the Speaker to post online MPP expense information for out-of-riding travel, hotel accommodation related to that travel, meals and hospitality.
  • Allow the government to appoint a Patient Ombudsman to respond to complaints about public hospitals, long-term care homes, and community care access centres.
  • Expand the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth’s mandate, providing oversight and new powers to investigate children’s aid societies.
  • Give the government greater oversight of air ambulance service providers, including the ability to appoint members to the board of directors as well as supervisors and special investigators and measures to protect whistleblowers.
  • Modernize lobbyist registration by requiring businesses and organizations to register when their staff spend at least 50 hours per year lobbying government and provide the Ontario Integrity Commissioner as Lobbyist Registrar with investigative powers and the ability to impose penalties, including prohibiting individuals from lobbying for up to two years.

Strengthening accountability and managing public sector compensation costs are part of Ontario’s Open Government initiative and economic plan. The four-part economic plan is building Ontario up by investing in people’s talents and skills, building new public infrastructure like roads and transit, creating a dynamic, supportive environment on a foundation of fiscal responsibility and building a secure savings plan so everyone can afford to retire.

 

QUICK FACTS

  • The Ontario Integrity Commissioner currently has the authority to review executive expense claims from 17 classified agencies and the four hydro organizations.
  • As Ontario’s President of Treasury Board, Minister Deb Matthews is leading the government’s efforts on accountability, openness and modernization.
  • The Ontario Ombudsman currently has authority to investigate all government ministries, Crown corporations, agencies, boards and commissions, tribunals and colleges.

LEARN MORE

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