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Prorogue delays ombudsman's MUSH sector ambitions

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin said he's saddened by Premier Dalton McGuinty's decision to step down and prorogue the legislature. That's because it means a delay in the expansion of his mandate, Marin said during an Oct. 30 teleconference.
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Ontario Ombudsman André Marin said in his annual report that too many Ontario municipal councils are flouting the Municipal Act when it comes to holding closed-door meetings. File photo
Ontario Ombudsman André Marin said he's saddened by Premier Dalton McGuinty's decision to step down and prorogue the legislature.

That's because it means a delay in the expansion of his mandate, Marin said during an Oct. 30 teleconference.

He'd like the power to investigate municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals, known collectively as the MUSH sector, as well as children's aid societies, long-term care facilities and the police.

“Right now, any expansion into the MUSH sector is dead,” Marin said.

“Just before I released the annual report this year, I had a very candid conversation with the premier, who told me 'Andre, it's not a question of if we do it, it's when we expand your powers into the MUSH sector.'

“Politics is politics. We know where we're sitting today. It saddens me to think we've had this setback. But hopefully down the line we can revisit the issue.”

Neil Haskett, who, along with wife Tabatha, leads the Sudbury chapter of the Ontario Coalition for Accountability, which supports the expansion of Marin's powers, said his grassroots group will throw its support behind any Liberal leadership candidate in favour of doing so.

“One of our big pushes is to make sure that whoever replaces Dalton McGuinty is somebody who is finally supportive,” he said.

In the same way, if there's an election, the group will also be throwing its support behind candidates in favour of an expansion of the ombudsman's mandate, he said. The NDP and Progressive Conservatives support such a move, he said.
In terms of the Liberals, much of the support the idea has received from that party has, ironically, come from McGuinty.

But Haskett said he'd have liked to have seen the premier's promise in writing.
“Just weeks prior to him talking to André, he was saying that they really don't need (ombudsman oversight) for hospitals or school boards or the children's aid society,” he said.

“So, going forward, we hope the new Liberal leader finally embraces accountability and transparency.”

Just before the legislature was prorogued, Hamilton Mountain NDP MPP Monique Taylor's private member's bill, which would allow the ombudsman oversight of children's aid societies, passed second reading, Haskett said.

While this was an encouraging sign, it was disappointing when the bill died on the docket when the legislature was prorogued, he said.

In his yearly report, published in June, Marin dedicates several pages to stressing the importance of being able to investigate the publicly funded organizations listed above.

The ombudsman said he turned down a record 2,539 complaints in these sectors in 2011-2012, up from 1,963 in the previous year.

“Unfortunately, there are many organizations that provide direct and vital public services to Ontarians, without the important check and balance of ombudsman oversight,” Marin wrote in his report.

“I have followed my ombudsman predecessors in repeatedly calling for modernization of my mandate to include the MUSH sector. The reason is simple. MUSH organizations have a profound and immediate impact on the lives and welfare of individual citizens.

“They impact Ontarians where they work, live and play, and when they are at their most vulnerable.”

The only area of the MUSH sector the ombudsman is allowed to investigate is closed-door municipal council meetings.

Heidi Ulrichsen

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