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July 8, 2013 permalink
Downtown petition drive seeks expansion of Ontario Ombudsman’s powers (with video)
With bullhorn in hand, it was eyes as much as ears Curtis Kingston was trying to open as his small group of about a half dozen activists sought signatures downtown Monday in support of Bill 42.
The bill would give Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin the authority to investigate complaints against the so-called MUSH sector of government that includes municipalities, universities, hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, police and the province’s Children Aid Societies.
Bill 42 passed second reading this spring with third reading scheduled for early October.
“What harm would having extra oversight have?” said Kingston, who had gathered 150 signatures in just over an hour.
“All we’re asking for is more accountability. Most people are very supportive of that.”
The gathering featured representatives of Canada Court Watch, the Ontario Coalition for Accountability and the Kingston and Quinte Citizens for Accountability.
Kingston, founder of the Quinte and Kingston group and member of the Ontario Coalition, planned to present Monday’s petitions to the local offices of Minister of Children and Youth Services Teresa Piruzza (L — Windsor West) and MPP Taras Natyshak (NDP — Essex) later Monday.
“We’re hoping to get four or five hundred signatures and we’ll easily do that having got 150 already,” said Kingston, who has helped organize about 10 such petition drives annually in recent years.
“The Ontario Coalition has collected between 15,000 and 20,000 since we started this (eight years ago).”
Kingston said not only does Marin support Bill 42, but it’s a rare piece of legislation that has also broken down the partisan walls at Queen’s Park.
“Every NDP and Conservative MPP voted for this bill at second reading,” said Kingston, a regular visitor to the city with his Windsor-born wife. “We’re optimistic it’ll pass third reading this time.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne has come out against expanding the ombudsman’s powers and the Liberals voted against Bill 42, claiming there are already bodies in place monitoring the MUSH sector.
Marin is the only ombudsman in the country who currently has no power to investigate complaints against the MUSH sector, which accounts for more than half of all provincial government spending.
Marin on average receives 2,000 complaints a year on the MUSH sector or about 14 per cent of submissions he receives annually.
Kingston said the response on the streets of Windsor was gratifying.
The small but noisy gathering drew a steady stream of petition signees. Signatures were often accompanied by stories of personal struggle within the system.
“Having more oversight would just help me emotionally knowing more about my babies,” said 31-year-old Trisha Sigouin, who has three children in the CAS system.
“It would be nice if there was someone I could go to for help to look into things.”
Brendan, who signed the petition but preferred not to give his last name, simplified his argument in favour of expanding the ombudsman’s powers.
“It’s a matter of basic fairness,” the 31-year-old said. “I’m on Ontario Works and the 15th of every month I have to report and explain everything I do because I’m receiving government money.
“Hospitals, school boards, the CAS, nursing homes, they also receive government money. Why is it OK to have someone with oversight over me, but the ombudsman can’t investigate complaints against these institutions?
“Anyone or anything receiving government support should be subject to accountability on how that money is being spent.”
Kevin Bessette, who went through the CAS system as a child growing up in Kirkland Lake, said more openness offers a sense of empowerment to those feeling overwhelmed by the system and makes financial sense.
“Look at all the government waste recently,” said the 29-year-old Bessette after signing the petition.
“The province doesn’t have any money. An ombudsman could stop these scandals or prevent them and then there might be more money around for programs to help people.”
Source: Windsor Star