Gélinas, meanwhile, hopes province is sincere about its plan to expand ombudsman's authority
Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk said Friday she's a big supporter of a plan to expand the authority of Ontario Ombudsman André Marin.
“I think it's great,” the mayor said Friday. “I welcome him back.”
A plan introduced Thursday by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne would give Marin's office the power of oversight for all municipalities, school boards and universities. A separate ombudsman would be appointed for the health-care sector.
Matichuk was the only member of city council who twice voted against firing Marin as the city's closed-door meeting investigator in February 2013. However, she was joined by Ward 1 Coun. Joe Cimino, Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli and Ward 9 Coun. Doug Craig, who switched their vote when the decision to replace Marin was confirmed later that month. Matichuk said the proposed legislation would give the ombudsman power to oversee all municipal governments, whether they like him or not.
“Even if you have another closed-door meeting investigator, he can oversee that, too,” she said. “So that gives me a real level of comfort. Everybody now in Ontario will be on a level playing field.
“I think it's a very good move. I support it 100 per cent.”
Cimino, who's running for the NDP in Sudbury in the next provincial vote, wasn't available to comment Friday. But Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, who is the NDP's health critic, welcomed the news, saying she would be “ecstatic” if the actual legislation matches what the government announced Thursday.
“This is a bill I have been pushing for six years,” Gélinas said. “I've wanted more oversight of the health-care system and I've presented this bill numerous times.”
She's a little wary, because the minority Liberal government announced they planned to introduce legislation, rather than tabling a bill. In particular, Gélinas wants to ensure the health-care ombudsman has the same sort of independent authority as Marin.
“It has to be someone who has the power to investigate and give people closure,”Gélinas said. “If this is what will be in the bill, I would be ecstatic and I'll vote for it in a minute. But no one has seen (the details.)”
She worries the proposal is little more than a “good news announcement” heading into an expected spring election, and wonders how they'll find enough time to pass the legislation before the minority Liberals are defeated.
“You can't push a bill like this through in two weeks,” she said. “But I'm trying to be positive about this, because I've been fighting for this oversight for such a long time. I hope it's not that.”
If the bill does become a reality, it would be a remarkable twist in what has become a lengthy tug of war between Marin and Sudbury city council that dates back to the Elton John ticket scandal of 2008.
Matters came to a boil in 2012, when Marin publicly criticized some councillors who refused to co-operate with a closed-door meeting investigation – they wanted their lawyer present, Marin refused. The ombudsman came to Sudbury in December 2012 to clear the air, but the visit made the situation worse. Councillors voted to fire Marin two months later.
Ward 2 Coun. Jacques Barbeau, who voted to get rid of Marin, said he supports expanding the authority of the ombudsman’s office to oversee municipalities. But not if Marin is the ombudsman.
“I do have a problem with this particular ombudsman,” Barbeau said Friday. “And until that changes, I'm not going to support it.”
It's not the oversight he objects to, Barbeau said, but the way in which Marin conducts himself.
“As much as he wants to make (negative) comments about Sudbury, I find him extremely unprofessional,” Barbeau said. “If he would just do his job, that would be fine. I have no issues with that whatsoever.”
For his part, Belli initiated the failed motion to re-instate Marin in February 2013, saying he made a mistake in his first vote. On Friday, he said city councillors sometimes cause themselves problems by getting offended by the brash Marin, who uses his twitter account to challenge local politicians that won't co-operate with his office.
In Belli's opinion, it's better to accept what Marin says and move on. Council would be further ahead.
“Sometimes we bring it on ourselves,” he said. “So honestly, we should let him do his job and we do ours.
“I have no issues with the ombudsman. I voted to try and get him back. So I look forward to it.”
In the public outcry that followed Marin's removal, the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association collected 8,000 postcards from the public demanding the ombudsman be reinstated. The group, which lobbies for local government reform, was taken aback by the strength of the public response.
“We got another one in the mail last week,” said Dan Melanson, the group's president, Friday.
Obviously, Melanson said the GSTA is “very, very pleased” with the announcement, but he was also waiting to hear the details of what the Liberals have in mind. He's hoping the new legislation will include penalties for anyone found to have acted improperly. Ontario's closed-door meeting law, for example, includes no penalties for breaking the rules.
“I hope there's going to be more than 'moral suasion,' ” Melanson said, referring to Marin's tactic of shaming councils found to have broken the rules. “Oversight without consequences is not going to be as effective as it would if you have some actual penalties attached to it, for when you're caught doing something that you shouldn't be doing.”
The Association of Municipalities of Ontario — the main lobby group for Ontario's 444 municipalities — has come out against the Liberal proposal, saying it amounts to the province “micromanaging” local government.
“It represents duplication and inefficiency, and importantly, it suggests that Wynne’s government does not trust in the capacity of municipal government to expose and address questions about performance and integrity,” AMO said on its website.
“Assigning oversight authority to the office of the Ontario Ombudsman, a provincial appointee who is based at Queen’s Park and who reports to Ontario’s Legislature, has the effect of transferring local municipal accountability to the province.
“AMO is curious to see whether the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats will support that, or reject the invitation to micromanage municipal government.”
Paula Peroni, the Progressive Conservative candidate in Sudbury, didn't respond to messages Friday seeking comment.