Press one of the expand buttons to see the full text of an article. Later press collapse to revert to the original form. The buttons below expand or collapse all articles.
Ombudsman's Power Extended
Children's Aid Excluded
March 6, 2014 permalink
Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne has announced plans to expand the ombudsman's powers to handle complaints about municipalities, universities and school boards. The most complained-about agencies, children's aid societies, will remain outside of his jurisdiction. Instead, the legislation will hand that responsibility over the the provincial child advocate, an office that has been ineffective so far. Our guess is that the government will allow bill 42 (   ) to die.
The case of Chris York, posted earlier today, shows how ineffective oversight is when fragmented among separate fiefdoms.
A news report and an announcement from ombudsman André Marin are enclosed.
Ontario ombudsman to be given powers to investigate school boards, municipalities
TORONTO -- Ontario will take a "huge leap' with proposed legislation to expand the powers of the ombudsman to provide oversight of municipalities, universities and school boards, Ombudsman Andre Marin said Thursday.
Those three sectors get over $30 billion a year in direct provincial funding with virtually no oversight on how they spend it, said Marin.
"It's going to allow Queen's Park to follow the money," he said. "The oversight of municipalities will include all the different boards within the cities, for example the police services board, so it's going to be a huge leap in jurisdiction."
Marin said his office has had to turn away about 2,000 complaints a year because it had no jurisdiction over those areas, leaving people with virtually nowhere to turn.
The bill would also give Ontario's children's advocate new powers to deal with complaints about children's aid societies, and create a new patient ombudsman for hospitals, long-term care homes and community care access centres.
Marin, who has long pushed for the authority to investigate the so-called MUSH sector -- municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals -- said he didn't think a separate patient Ombudsman was the right way to go. He wanted his office to handle those duties.
"We'll call it the MUS sector, because we lost the H," quipped Marin. "The patient ombudsman unfortunately reports to the bowels of the bureaucracy, not to the minister, not to the legislative assembly." As an independent officer of the legislature, Marin reports directly to the legislative assembly.
However, Marin did welcome the fact the government is moving to give patients with complaints about the health-care sector somewhere to turn.
"At long last, Ontario is poised to rectify the accident of history that left millions of citizens with nowhere to complain about the public bodies that touched their lives most closely," he said.
Government Services Minister John Milloy said the Liberals decided it would be best not to give the ombudsman additional powers to provide oversight for hospitals, long-term care homes and children in custody of the state.
"There was a feeling that a sector-specific ombudsperson who could look into that whole range of issues, who would have the expertise to look into health-care issues was the way to go," he said. "The same with the children's aid societies, to give it to an officer of parliament, the child advocate."
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the bill would also force MPPs to post their expenses online and give government the power to impose caps on salaries of public sector executives, including hospital CEOs and officials at Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation and the LCBO.
"I came into this office, just over a year ago, saying I was going to do government differently, that we were going to open up and be more transparent, and that is what we're doing," she said.
There's no details yet on what sort of salary caps the Liberals would impose, but Wynne said it would be done on a sector by sector basis, with differing limits on total compensation packages.
"This legislation will pave the way for those hard caps to be put in place," she said.
The Opposition said the Liberals had 10 years to be open and transparent, but instead tried to cover up their decisions to cancel two gas plants prior to the 2011 election at a cost of $1.1 billion, and have no credibility on accountability.
"This is the most corrupt government possibly in the history of Ontario," said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak. "If you actually want transparency and accountability in government, then change the government."
Wynne rejected accusations the bill was simply crass political opportunism because the Liberals know it stands little chance of being approved before a vote on the spring budget, which could trigger a provincial election.
"I can't predict what the outcome of the introduction of the budget is going to be, but I expect that there should be all-party support for this," she said. "The politics of election or not, that is a separate issue from doing government in a way that is accountable to the people of Ontario."
Another measure in the bill, which Wynne said would be introduced in a few weeks, would clarify the rules for keeping government documents so they aren't destroyed in an attempt to avoid freedom of information requests.
Police are currently investigating the deletion of emails by officials in former premier Dalton McGuinty's office related to the Liberals' $1.1 billion decision to cancel two gas plants prior to the 2011 election. There is also another police investigation into financial irregularities at the province's Ornge air ambulance service.
Newsroom / Press Releases / 2014 /
Ontario Ombudsman oversight to be expanded to MUSH sector Marin welcomes historic move to provide scrutiny of municipalities, school boards, hospitals and more
(TORONTO – March 6, 2014) Ontario Ombudsman André Marin today welcomed the provincial government’s announcement that it will extend his office’s mandate into the “MUSH sector” – the vast, provincially-funded broader public sector comprising municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals, as well as long-term care homes, children’s aid societies and police.
The changes will allow citizens to complain about government-funded organizations that have historically been immune to the Ombudsman’s independent scrutiny.
The bill would empower the Ombudsman to investigate public complaints about municipalities, universities and school boards. It also creates a new Patient Ombudsman for complaints about hospitals and long-term care homes, and gives the existing Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth the power to investigate children’s aid societies.
“At long last, Ontario is poised to rectify the accident of history that left millions of citizens with nowhere to complain about the public bodies that touched their lives most closely,” Mr. Marin said. “If this bill passes, it will finally open the MUSH sector to the same kind of independent investigative scrutiny given to every other aspect of the provincial government.”
Because the Ombudsman reports not to government but to the Legislative Assembly as a whole, the change is an assurance of greater transparency for all MPPs and the public, Mr. Marin stressed. “The Ombudsman and other officers of the Legislature serve as checks and balances on government, ensuring that it – in all its complexity – is functioning efficiently and with the confidence of its citizens,” he said. “Ensuring the MUSH sector is subject to the same checks and balances is simply good for democracy, period.”
Ontario’s first Ombudsman, Arthur Maloney, called for the MUSH sector to be subject to his office’s scrutiny in a report published in March 1979, and his successors have reiterated this position. Since Mr. Marin’s appointment in 2005, his office has received than 20,000 complaints about MUSH sector bodies, even though the public is aware that they can’t be investigated.
These have included concerns about corruption in municipal government, mistreatment of patients in hospitals and long-term care homes, school board policies on bullying, deaths of children in CAS care, and unfairness to university students. Wherever possible, Ombudsman staff refer complainants to other appropriate authorities.
The new legislation comes in the wake of years of public demonstrations, rallies and calls to expand Ombudsman oversight to all or part of the MUSH sector. Since 2005, there have been more than 130 petitions and 15 private member’s bills tabled in the legislature to this effect, supported by members of all parties.
Ontario is the last province in Canada to open its MUSH sector to Ombudsman oversight. All other provinces have moved to extend the jurisdiction of their ombudsmen to hospitals, long-term care and child protection.
“If these measures are implemented, Ontario will go from being dead last in Canada to one of the leaders in MUSH sector scrutiny,” said Mr. Marin, whose office was consulted in the final stages of drafting the bill. “I look forward to seeing this bill come before the Legislature. It is a strong step toward a more democratic, accountable and open Ontario.”
The Ontario Ombudsman’s office handles about 20,000 public complaints per year, has 80 staff and a budget of just over $11 million. It resolves individual complaints quickly wherever possible and also investigates broad systemic issues affecting large numbers of people. The Ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding, but have been overwhelmingly accepted by government. Ombudsman investigations since 2005 have sparked widespread reforms, including better screening of newborn babies, improved security for lottery players, more transparent property tax assessment, more compensation for crime victims and fairer drug funding policies.
Source: Ombudsman Ontario