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Editorials for Ombudsman

June 23, 2012 permalink

Earlier we reported a batch of editorials supporting ombudsman oversight of children's aid, all from Prince Edward County. Now support for expanding the ombudsman's mandate is spreading. Enclosed are editorials in the Ottawa Citizen, Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal, London Free Press, Sudbury Star, Kingston Whig-Standard, Barrie Examiner, St Catharines Standard, Brantford Expositor, North Bay Nugget (two articles), Sarnia Observer, Woodstock Sentinel Review, Welland Tribune, Niagara Advance, Niagara Falls Review, St Thomas Times-Journal, Clinton News Record, Bancroft This Week, Paris Star, Lakeshore Advance, Lucknow Sentinel, Amherstburg Echo, Seaforth Huron Expositor and Strathroy Age Dispatch.



Give Marin the power

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin is the watchdog people turn to when they have complaints about provincial government services. Last year, there were 18,000 complaints about a wide variety of government ministries.

Marin is noted for his searing examinations of how government does its job, but there are vast territories where he can offer the public no assistance. Hospitals, school boards, children’s aid societies, universities and municipalities are all beyond his reach. Despite that well-known fact, the ombudsman still received more than 2,500 public complaints about the broader public sector last year.

Marin would like the power to help people when they have problems with the wide array of taxpayer-funded organizations that provide direct service for which the public pays billions of dollars. It seems a reasonable request and Marin is not alone in wanting it. Since 2005, there have been nine private-member’s bills calling for more ombudsman oversight. All have been defeated. In the same period, there have been 65 petitions asking for the same thing, 16 of them last year alone.

In fact, ombudsmen have been asking for expanded powers since the first one was appointed 37 years ago.

In other provinces, ombudsmen do have the power to examine most or all of the areas Marin wants added to his list. Only Ontario shields this broad range of institutions from the ombudsman.

Marin attributes that to the lobbying power of institutions that don’t want his scrutiny, particularly hospitals and children’s aid societies. It’s an indefensible position. Groups that take public money should be open to public examination.

Giving Ontario’s ombudsman the jurisdiction that his provincial peers have would mean adding about 60 jobs to the current total of 90, but Marin suggests the positions be taken from government ministries, which provide less aggressive oversight now.

There is some hope. Marin says Premier Dalton McGuinty has agreed to meet him and discuss broadening the ombudsman’s powers. That’s a start, but expanding the ombudsman’s role is long overdue. There is really no argument against it.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

Open wide these windows

IT IS SAID, and is undoubtedly true, that while senior governments set the rules from afar, it is local governments that are closest to the people. You can phone your city councillor right now, but try getting a timely answer to your question about issues governed by the provincial or federal legislation. Your MPP or MP will take your question and their offices can often settle basic issues. But the size and complexity of senior public bureaucracy usually makes for a long and frustrating process for those with the inclination to even try.

In Ontario, the ombudsman was appointed to find answers and settle disputes in cases where citizens have issues with provincial ministries. Ironically, ministries with offices that most closely affect citizens in their own communities remain beyond the purview of the ombudsman.

In his annual report this week, Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin repeated his earlier insistence — and those of his predecessors — that the so-called MUSH sector be brought under his spotlight.

Does it make any sense at all that municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals do not have to answer to the ombudsman on behalf of the people of Ontario? These are the government services most often used by most people and yet, in Marin’s words, they remain without “the important check and balance of ombudsman oversight.”

Government spends tens of billions of dollars each year funding these institutions, as well as children’s aid societies, long-term care homes and police. These organizations “have a profound and immediate effect on the lives and welfare of individual citizens,” Marin said. “They impact Ontarians where they work, live and play, and when they are at their most vulnerable.”

And yet they remain purposely out of his ability to look into their operations because government refuses to allow it. Marin said that Ontario remains dead last when it comes to giving the ombudsman authority in these “zones of immunity.”

What’s more, Marin warned, the government’s budget bill passed this week will allow for more privatization of public services, removing them, too, from his scrutiny.

Last year, Marin received 18,541 complaints — up 27 per cent from 2010-11 — but was not able to investigate a record 2,539 related to the so-called MUSH sector because such institutions fall beyond his jurisdiction. It is clear, then, that Ontarians are experiencing more difficulty getting answers from the public institutions they use most often and pay the most for, because administrators who can hide behind whatever wall they care to erect to protect their operations.

NDP MPP France Gélinas (Nickel Belt) had it right when she said the system we have in place right now is not much better than a suggestion box.

Among the more frustrating calls here come from parents and other family members concerned with apparently arbitrary removal of children from family homes. While no one should doubt the value of public offices in place to protect children, the number of complaints suggests legitimate issues beyond obvious personal emotions. These people are often as frustrated by the fact that no one will talk to them as they are at having lost a child to the system.

Municipal governments make decisions every day that directly affect many people and sometimes they raise questions that need the surveillance of an office with the resources of the ombudsman. Same with hospitals, school boards and universities — all off limits to Marin.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said he’s open to discussing Marin’s complaints. That’s a start, but there needs to be a firm commitment from McGuinty to open the window on these essential but sometimes secretive public institutions.

Source: Chronicle-Journal (Thunder Bay)

Serve MUSH to Ombudsman and taxpayers would benefit

In government, the buck stops with cabinet ministers. That's why they call it ministerial accountability. What often triggers it, is not so much internal government safeguards against screw-ups and abuse of power, though they help, but political pressure applied by the opposition and the media.

In the corporate world, it's a company's chief executive and board of directors that carry the can.

When they need to be held to account, it's typically shareholders, a board's audit committee or outside market regulators that hold their feet to the fire.

With Queen's Park increasingly involved in corporate approaches to government, everything from public-private partnerships for new roads and hospitals, to setting up arm's-length agencies to provide services at less cost, it's time to step up the oversight on behalf of taxpayers, maybe by borrowing a page from the corporate world.

Too often in recent years, we've seen ministerial accountability diluted--by recalcitrant ministers unwilling to walk the plank, stonewalling governments or spin-doctoring on the public's dime.

Ornge, eHealth, the lottery corporation -- the fiascos under the Liberals' watch -- make a mockery of existing checks and balances.

Against that backdrop, Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin -- the average citizen's only truly independent government watchdog--has made the entirely reasonable suggestion his jurisdiction be extended to include municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals, the so-called MUSH sector.

It consumes billions in taxpayer dollars a year, and involves many of the services that most affect average Ontarians.

While the premier's office is said to be open to the idea, it should be embracing it with more enthusiasm. Given the government's budget woes, and growing acceptance of privatizing some services to help whip its $15 billion deficit, expanded oversight for the ombudsman would be both a wise practical and optical investment.

Expanding the ombudsman's power isn't a matter of tossing a bureaucrat a bone; it's a matter of giving taxpayers government accountability they can sink their teeth into, something that'll surely be needed if they're asked to swallow more corporate approaches to whipping Ontario's books into shape.

Source: London Free Press

The same editorial by Greg Van Moorsel of the London Free Press appeared in the following publications:

Source: Sudbury Star

Source: Kingston Whig-Standard

Source: Barrie Examiner

Source: St Catharines Standard

Source: Brantford Expositor

Source: North Bay Nugget

Source: Sarnia Observer

Source: Woodstock Sentinel Review

Source: Welland Tribune

Source: Niagara Advance

Source: Niagara Falls Review

Source: St Thomas Times-Journal

Source: Clinton News Record

Source: Bancroft This Week

Source: Paris Star

Source: Lakeshore Advance

Source: Lucknow Sentinel

Source: Amherstburg Echo

Source: Seaforth Huron Expositor

Source: Strathroy Age Dispatch


Ombudsman needed to fix LHIN mess

A letter to Deb Matthews, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care:

Dear Ms. Matthews:

You don’t know me from a hole in the ground, but I’m assured we share friends who can fill you in.

Their recommendations may not be unanimously favourable but if you give me a few minutes out of your busy schedule, maybe we can fix that.

Let me start off with a tip of the Stetson for your efforts in getting a little of the swamp drained in spite of being knee deep in alligators.

No one in the history of government this side of Barack Obama ever inherited a swamp as deep and full of muck as the one that became your very own at Ontario’s health ministry.

Scandals such as eHealth and Ornge can be traced to your predecessors.

So it’s hard not to sympathize as you do your best to muddle through.

But getting back to the subject of the day (that would be me), folks will tell you I am small “c” conservative by nature.

Therefore, of all the ideas I might come up with for you, hiring more bureaucrats for the ministry of health would be suggestion No. 999.9 on a list of 1,000.

Under normal circumstances I’d be more likely to part with one of my beloved mules than to say you need more staff.

However, pretend for a sec that I’m a politician and I’ll ignore some basic conservative principles in favour of a little bit of personal gain.

You do need one more staff member in your ministry, an ombudsman to deal with issues related to Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs).

This particular alligator reared its ugly head last week after I pointed out in this column the inadequate way in which the southwest LHIN has handled the issue of palliative care in the Grey, Bruce, Owen Sound area.

It would be an exaggeration to say I have been inundated with responses.

But I have received a number from writers who have had dealings with the mid-level bureaucrats that populate LHIN offices across the province.

And each letter provides details of a problem that has resulted in higher health care costs or lower quality care, or some combination of the two.

None of the responses was a quick one-liner, so oft-received by columnists.

These were detailed missives spelling out issues and laying the blame — clearly.

Since I wasn’t born yesterday (there’s lots of evidence of that), I understand the challenges you face in dealing with these kinds of issues.

The very name LHIN has become a political football, albeit a football you are not allowed to just kick down the road.

So the answer for you would be to hire an ombudsman to deal with these complaints.

In this regard I offer you my services with the understanding I will do this job at low cost.

I won’t need an administrative assistant, chauffeur, panelled corner office or any other spiffs normally associated with government work. I’ll just open the phone and e-mail lines to these complainants, and do some football kicking of my own to solve the problems.

(Not being in politics I can get away with that sort of thing.)

Please consider this application at your earliest convenience.

If my mail is a true indication, the LHINs must be stopped before they commit any more health care havoc in the province.


Your humble servant, etc.

Source: North Bay Nugget