Province trying to avoid Ombudsman

Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - 09:00
Sudbury Star

Editorial - Ontario's government must cringe every time Andre Marin opens his mouth.

That's because Ontario's ombudsman rarely has a nice thing to say, which is understandable when you are charged with the task of being the province's watchdog.

In the post since 2005, Marin has come down hard on provincial agencies like the Family Responsibility Office, the spending of hospitals and children's aid societies, Ontario Lottery and Gaming, the Ministry of Health for its treatment of cancer patients and the Municipal Property Assessment Corp., among many others.

He is currently probing allegations against the Special Investigations Unit, a civilian agency charged with the task of investigating incidents between police departments and the public.

But, according to the most recent criticism by Marin, the list of his targets could be, and should be, a lot longer.

The problem, he says, is that the government is deliberately trying to skirt his office to avoid his scathing criticisms.

"From the government's perspective, the risk is much more contained when you go out and hire a contractor," Marin said last week.

Marin's assessment stems from the Ministry of Community Safety hiring an outside investigator, at added cost to taxpayers, to investigate the actions of OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino in relation to the land claim issue in Caledonia.

According to the description on the Ontario Ombudsman's website, it's Marin's job to "ensure the accountability of government through effective oversight of the administration of government services in the province."

As such, there should be no need to incur the extra expense to hire outside investigators or consultants to do the same thing, which is what the Ministry of Community Safety has done.

At the heart of this matter is one thing: accountability.

The McGuinty government has proven adept at blatantly detouring controversy by simply avoiding that which is controversial.

In this case, it is Marin.

A month ago, it was displayed by the premier himself during question period.

It was at the height of the slush fund scandal, when the government was under fire for distributing grants to community groups, some with direct ties to the Liberals, with no formal application process or notification that the money was available.

At the time, NDP Leader Howard Hampton asked McGuinty to apologize for inferring the opposition parties were racist for questioning this use of taxpayer money.

Instead of apologizing, McGuinty went on a rambling verbal journey into health care.

In a stunning snub, he simply ignored the question put to him by another party leader.

It's that attitude that has McGuinty in a pre-election flurry, re-promising promises he has already broken.

Marin has been charged with an important task in this province, and has proven adept at bringing accountability to agencies and ministries that have strayed off the path.

There is no reason for the government to deny him investigating any complaints about the government.