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Statement to Media by Fiona Crean, City of Toronto Ombudsman: Accountability Legislation

Today the Government of Ontario introduced its accountability legislation in the Legislature. I applaud them for bringing in this Bill.

Independent oversight is a good thing for any large institution.

For well over 30 years, provincial ombudsman have been lobbying for the expansion of accountability to municipalities and other sectors. This Bill now provides that jurisdiction to the Ontario Ombudsman.

But after reading that part of the Bill, I am left with some very real concerns.

To have the provincial Ombudsman as a kind of appeal or review body over the City of Toronto Ombudsman dramatically changes the role of both Ombudsman and flies in the face of how legislated ombuds operate here and around the world.

Reviews of reviews are surely not a valuable use of public resources?

To say nothing of red tape run amuck, and the likelihood of wasted money.

Let me be more specific.

First, the Bill says that in cases where a citizen does not like the outcome of my investigation, he or she may have the matter re-investigated by the Ontario Ombudsman.

Reviewing ombuds decisions would be contrary to the fundamental purpose of a statutory ombudsman whose essential role is to act as a court of last resort.

This is duplication, a waste of taxpayer dollars, and double jeopardy for the public service. It introduces confusion for the public where none exists in Toronto and does not serve the residents well.

And how can City Council have an ombudsman who is not appointed by them nor reports to them? How will the Ontario Legislature implement recommendations about Toronto’s problems?

Second, the Bill says that where I refuse to take up a resident’s complaint, the provincial Ombudsman may do so. While those decisions can be made at an ombudsman’s discretion, there are commonly accepted criteria by which such decisions are made, criteria that are enshrined in law.

The Government now wishes to have one ombudsman second guessing another. This is the beginning of ombudsman shopping and again this flies in the face of a legislated ombudsman being an office of last resort.

This is poorly conceived and it is obvious the professionals in the field were not consulted.

Finally, let me say this about the accountability legislation. I am already accountable. I am accountable to City Council, which has unanimously approved all of my recent investigations. My budget and expenses are carefully examined by Council and open to public scrutiny.

The Ontario government is making a mistake if it thinks this is going to save money and increase accountability and transparency in the City of Toronto.

This part of the legislation is wrong, confusing and, worst of all, does not serve the residents of Toronto. In fact, it hurts them, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable residents among us.

Can you imagine vulnerable seniors who are evicted from public housing being able to get justice in this baffling bureaucracy?

How will a man who has lost his family’s child care subsidy because staff lost his file find his way through this red tape and redundancy?

Or people who had their insurance claims against the city unilaterally rejected?

This is bad law that will hurt the residents of the City of Toronto.