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NDP leaves wiggle room for municipalities on ombudsman

The firm handles investigations on behalf of Local Authority Services (LAS), an arm of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin is seen here in December 2012, as he addressed Greater Sudbury city council. Council fired him in 2013, opting instead for the firm Amberley Gavel as its closed-door meetings investigator. Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath favours the ombudsman for this role, but has left wiggle room for municipalities who have closed-door meetings investigators other than the ombudsman. File photo.

The firm handles investigations on behalf of Local Authority Services (LAS), an arm of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

The Ontario NDP intends to give oversight of the MUSH sector — municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals — to the ombudsman's office, Horwath said.

But she said her party would have to look more closely at what to do in the case of municipalities such as Greater Sudbury where there's a private-meetings investigator other than Marin.

“I know some municipalities still do have an ombudsman that they have hired and they have engaged, so we'll have to look at the implementation in those situations,” Horwath said.

“I really do believe that the independence that comes with the kind of arms-length relationship is valuable.”

In the weeks before the election was called, Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that the ombudsman would gain increased oversight powers, including over municipalities.

The office previously was an option as closed door meetings investigator for municipalities.

Horwath also confirmed Sudbury NDP candidate Joe Cimino's earlier statement that the Ontario NDP would fund its one-third share of the $125 million Maley Drive extension and the four-laning of the final 90 kilometres of Highway 69.

She said she hopes the federal government will also step up with its share of the Maley funding. “I know the city's anxious to get that project underway, so we're absolutely there,” Horwath said.

Wynne also committed to the province's share of the project in the budget she introduced before the election was called.

Horwath promised to complete the widening of Highway 69 “as soon humanly possible,” and said Cimino “is adamant that can be accomplished, in terms of the actual, physical work, by 2016,” she said.

The Liberals had planned to have the project completed by 2017.

In terms of developing the mining industry in the mineral-rich Ring of Fire region, the NDP said it's committed to the project, but hasn't outlined any specific spending in its budget plan.

For its part, the Liberals have promised to spend $1 billion to build a road to the Ring of Fire region, while the Progressive-Conservatives would enter into a public-private partnership to build the transportation corridor.

Horwath said her party has built in “literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars” of contingency funds into its platform that could be used on projects such as the Ring of Fire.

But she said she didn't want to earmark a specific figure for a Ring of Fire transportation corridor because it's not clear if a road or railway should be built.

“One of the things we'll be doing, absolutely, is getting our noses to the grindstone and making a final decision about what that solution is, and then starting to flow funds immediately,” Horwath said.

The Ontario NDP have made some grandiose promises when it comes to an issue that's been a perennial problem in Greater Sudbury — health care wait times.

The party promises to cut ER wait times in half by opening 24-hour family health clinics and introducing nurse practitioners in ERs, eliminate the wait list for acute long-term care beds by adding 1,400 more spaces, and eliminate wait times for seniors with a five-day home care guarantee.

They're planning to accomplish all of this by spending $205 million a year for the next two years, and $215 million a year in the following two years.

When asked if these plans are realistic, given the relatively modest budget, Horwath said she thinks it is.

Last year, the Ontario NDP forced the Liberals to put more money into home care, she said, and it didn't make “a hill of beans of difference,” as it went into raises for CEOs, and wasn't spent on the front lines.

“What we want to make sure we are doing is targeting that money to the most important and urgent areas,” Horwath said.

“We told the Liberals the best thing to do is to target that money to get rid of the wait list. They didn't do that. Well, we will do that.”

Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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