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Horwath Wants Effective Ombudsman
March 8, 2010 permalink
For several years Andrea Horwath had legislation pending to expand the powers of Ontario's ombudsman to include children's aid societies. Now her legislation is dead by prorogue and Mr Marin's job is in peril. Here is her opinion piece on the ombudsman in the Toronto Star.
How to hire an ombudsman
Transparent process would fix term at 10 years and he should stay there until a successor is named
By all accounts, André Marin has done a sterling job as Ontario's ombudsman since his appointment five years ago.
Among other accomplishments, Marin created a special investigative unit that has completed more than 20 reports on a wide range of topics, from cancer drug funding to problems with Ontario's lotteries to ensuring new homeowners get what they pay for. Another investigative team he created has blown the door off secret meetings at the municipal level of government.
Given Marin's laudable track record as the provincial watchdog, you would have thought his reappointment by the McGuinty government for another five-year term would have been a slam dunk.
After all, members of the government have gone out of their way to praise Marin. Premier Dalton McGuinty himself has, on more than one occasion, paid public tribute to Marin's work and welcomed his constructive critique of a provincial government that can sometimes run amok or be prone to inertia.
"It's great to have a guy like this who is nipping at our heels on a regular basis. He forces us to move. I think that serves the public interest," McGuinty said in one interview.
So it must have been surprising to Marin and other keen observers of the provincial political scene to learn last month that the ombudsman will have to reapply for his job in an open competition.
Let's be clear. New Democrats have consistently called for an open competition for the appointment of officers of the Legislative Assembly, such as the ombudsman and the environment commissioner, among others. Furthermore, as "officers of the assembly," these office-holders must have all-party support.
And Marin, to his credit, has expressed a willingness to have his performance assessed and subject to the scrutiny of an open competition.
But given the way this drama has unfolded, at the 11th hour of Marin's five-year term, we can't help but believe cynical politics are at play.
With the next provincial election campaign a little more than a year-and-a-half away, we can only assume the McGuinty government would like nothing better than to rid itself of an effective – and at times harsh – critic.
Marin's reports garner headlines and plenty of public attention. And they always point to government failings and shortcomings. Hardly the kind of thing an incumbent government needs as it strives for a third successive majority.
If the McGuinty government were truly serious about the integrity of the appointment process, it would have launched it well before now. The amount of time and effort needed to fill a position like the ombudsman is greater than the six weeks before Marin's term expires.
The government should look no further than the still unfolding, plodding process to find a new integrity commissioner. More than three years since that process began, the selection committee – made of up MPPs from all parties – still hasn't come to a decision.
Given that example, a truly transparent and open competition – if that's what the McGuinty government intended – should have been launched much earlier. Instead, we're left with an ombudsman in limbo.
If he appeared to be caught off guard last month, Marin can be forgiven. Late last year, McGuinty reappointed the privacy commissioner for a third term with a simple stroke of the government pen. With the expiration of his first term quickly approaching, Marin had every right to assume he'd receive the same treatment.
At the time of the privacy commissioner's reappointment, New Democrats raised concerns about the lack of transparency. A perusal through the record of debate at Queen's Park shows we aren't the only ones uncomfortable with the existing process, or lack thereof.
None other than current Finance Minister Dwight Duncan once mused about formalizing "a process for appointing officers of the assembly that rightfully ought to be done in as non-partisan a fashion as we can."
We're glad Duncan agrees with us and we're equally glad to share some ideas on how to proceed.
First, the ombudsman's term should be fixed at 10 years (just like the auditor general), instead of the current five.
Second, there should be no reappointment. Once the 10 years are up, you hand the job to someone else.
Third, the incumbent ombudsman should automatically keep the job until a successor is named. That is to say, there should not be interim, short-term appointments, as there have been in the past.
We think our proposals are reasonable and would remove any suggestion of politically motivated actions on the part of governments in the future.
Given the important role the ombudsman plays in protecting the interests of Ontarians, we think it's only fair.
Source: Toronto Star