Bill would give omudsman oversight of cities, school boards, universities
“This bill marks important progress in finally opening MUSH sector organizations to independent scrutiny,” Marin said a news release. “These organizations affect millions of Ontarians and account for billions of tax dollars. It’s only right that citizens have recourse to their ombudsman for complaints about them, just as they do for any other provincial government organization.”
On March 6, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne unveiled plans to expand ombudsman oversight, but didn't table legislation detailing what it would mean. Wynne also announced plans to create a patient ombudsman to deal with issues in health care.
The ombudsman, whose office already oversees more than 500 government organizations, would gain authority over Ontario municipalities, school boards and universities if the bill becomes law.
Whether it will pass through the Legislature before an expected spring election is uncertain. The minority Liberal government is expected to fall in the coming weeks when it introduces its budget. The Progressive Conservatives led by Tim Hudak have said they will defeat the government at the first opportunity. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, after striking budget deals in the past, has indicated she's also no longer willing to prop up the Liberals.
That has led some observers to question whether the government is sincere about the reforms, considering an election is likely before the rules become law. If passed, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014, would also expand the authority of Ontario's provincial advocate for children and youth to include the power to investigate children’s aid societies.
In a release Monday, Government Services Minister John Milloy said increasing transparency has been an objective since Wynne became premier in January 2013.
“We are proposing clear and decisive actions to strengthen political accountability and make the business of government more transparent,” Milloy is quoted as saying.
Other measures in the bill include:
Providing the government with the power to cap the salaries of senior executives in the public sector;
Requiring cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants, opposition leaders, their respective staff, and all MPPs to post their expense information online;
Requiring public institutions to keep copies of all records and make the wilful destruction of records with the intent to deny access to the public subject to a fine of $5,000;
Expanding the scope of the Integrity Commissioner's review of executive expenses to all 197 classified agencies and four hydro organizations on a rotating or selective basis;
Providing the Integrity Commissioner with investigative powers, including the ability to prohibit individuals from lobbying. Enforcement provisions include stiffer fines of up to $100,000.
While pleased the bill was introduced, the ombudsman said he has “serious concerns about some of its shortcomings.”
However, he declined to say what he didn't like about the bill until there are public hearings.
“In deference to the parliamentary process, I will address those concerns at the appropriate time, before the appropriate legislative committee.”
Quick FactsThe Ontario Ombudsman currently has authority to investigate all government ministries, Crown corporations, agencies, boards and commissions, tribunals and colleges.
The Ontario Integrity Commissioner currently has the authority to review executive expense claims from the 17 classified agencies and the four hydro organizations.
The Travel, Meal and Hospitality Expenses Directive, which was revised in 2010, sets out the rules for claiming reimbursement for business-related travel, meal and hospitality expenses of senior management in the public sector.
Full text of the bill can be found here.