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June 25, 2014 permalink
Ontario ombudsman André Marin has delivered his annual report (pdf). Two sections copied below discuss the MUSH sector and children's aid. The essay titled Making MUSH History is a favorable report on legislative efforts to expand his authority, though that legislation died when the legislature was dissolved for an election. Later in the report under Children's Aid Societies there is a breakdown of the kinds of problems that led to 536 complaints the ombudsman has no authority to investigate.
Making MUSH History
For the past nine years, I have vigorously advocated for modernization of my Office’s mandate to include the MUSH sector – municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals and long-term care homes, children’s aid societies and police. Combined, these organizations receive more than $50 billion in provincial funding each year, and have a significant impact on the lives of Ontario’s citizens, literally from birth to death. Yet they are not subject to the same robust scrutiny that applies to provincial bodies within my jurisdiction – which include all ministries, agencies, boards, commissions, corporations and tribunals.
My predecessors, starting with the first Ombudsman, Arthur Maloney (1975-1979), all called for expansion of the Ombudsman’s authority to various MUSH bodies. Since 2005, momentum for change has progressively gained traction. More than 130 petitions, signed by thousands of Ontarians, have been tabled in the Legislature to this effect, and MPPs have introduced 18 private member’s bills seeking changes to my jurisdiction to include MUSH bodies. And in recent years, both Premier Kathleen Wynne and her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, along with other provincial leaders, have assured me that they supported renovation of my mandate in principle.
But this year marked the first time in nearly 40 years that the government of Ontario has actually put pen to paper to extend Ombudsman oversight. On March 6, 2014, Premier Wynne made the historic announcement that the government would table legislation aimed at strengthening accountability and increasing transparency, including extending the Ontario Ombudsman’s oversight to municipalities, publicly funded universities and school boards. This was followed on March 24, 2014, by introduction of Bill 179, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014.
In addition to expanding the authority of my Office over the M, U and S in MUSH, Bill 179 proposed the creation of a Patient Ombudsman to address concerns relating to hospitals and long-term care homes – and that office would, in turn, come under my investigative authority. As for children’s aid societies, the bill proposed to give the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth new investigative powers and the ability to address matters relating to children and youth involved in the child protection system.
In the spirit of co-operation and respect that characterizes the relationship between my Office and government administrators, I was consulted and provided with an opportunity to express my views as Bill 179 was drafted. I noted that, as I have long argued in my reports, I believe the organizations most urgently in need of my Office’s oversight are hospitals, long-term care homes and children’s aid societies. These are areas that every other parliamentary ombudsman in the country has been given the power to oversee, and that affect citizens who are among our most vulnerable. (Indeed, they are the areas that the previous premier told me he would prefer to target first.) That said, however, I appreciated that the bill proposed to open the entire MUSH sector to more oversight than ever before. It is the prerogative of our elected officials to make broad public policy decisions on behalf of Ontarians, and as an officer of the Legislature, I respect those decisions.
The dissolution of the Legislative Assembly on May 2, 2014, of course, killed Bill 179 along with others on the order paper. Still, this important legislative effort was not in vain. It reflected a commitment to increasing accountability in the MUSH sector, an area where Ontario lags behind the rest of Canada. Whatever happens next, support for these measures has been legitimized and imprinted on the provincial consciousness. Our Office stands ready to help the thousands of Ontarians who have complained to us about MUSH organizations. In 2013-2014, we had to turn away a record 3,400 such complaints, a 34% increase over the previous year.
As you know, the proposed legislation [Bill 179] would expand the mandate of the Ombudsman’s Office into entirely new areas. I note, with gratitude, that you and your staff provided a number of constructive comments that went into the drafting of the proposed legislation and were instrumental in refining and improving the bill....
I firmly believe that this proposed legislation is extremely important, and represents a historic opportunity to improve accountability and transparency in Ontario – and, simultaneously, expand the mandate of the Ombudsman’s Office. I am completely convinced that Ontario, and Ontarians, will be better off for having this initiative move forward.
Letter from Premier Kathleen Wynne, March 25, 2014
CHILDREN’S AID SOCIETIES
In 2013-2014, the Ombudsman received 536 complaints and inquiries about children’s aid societies (CASs) across Ontario. We heard from youth in care, former Crown wards, parents, grandparents and foster parents. Concerns were raised about delayed, inadequate and biased investigations, problematic child apprehensions, failure to respond to complaints, poor communication, and denial of access to children in care.
We also received nine complaints about the Child and Family Services Review Board, some expressing dissatisfaction with its restricted jurisdiction. Although the board oversees CASs, its narrow mandate allows it to consider only procedural concerns about children’s aid societies filed by individuals actually “seeking or receiving services” from them. It is also limited to granting procedural remedies, such as ordering that a CAS respond or provide reasons.
Bill 179 would not have given the Ontario Ombudsman authority over CASs. However, it would have expanded the authority of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth – an Officer of the Legislature like the Ombudsman – to include investigating and reporting on concerns about CASs.
Source: Ombudsman Ontario Annual Report 2013-2014