Ontarians deserve proper oversight of their government

Posted on January 29, 2020 in Governance Delivery System

Source: — Authors:

TheStar.com – Opinion

Last week, the Star published an opinion piece by Anne Levesque on the appointment of Kelly Burke as the new French languages commissioner operating within the ombudsman’s office. That position used to be a stand-alone officer of Parliament.

Levesque found little hope that Burke will be effective championing the rights of Ontario’s francophones.

You need at least two ingredients for oversight offices to operate effectively.

First, you need to have the right person in the job, who is not afraid to speak truth to power and be models of transparency. The person needs to fearlessly flash the spotlight on problems.

Ontario’s current Ombudsman Paul Dubé is someone who has not shown that he is up to the job of being a fearless watchdog. He operates in the backwaters in stealth mode and without a flashlight.

There should be a natural tension between the overseen and the overseer, which is palpably absent since Dubé was appointed. He’s been acting more like lapdog than a watchdog.

The newly appointed Burke, a career Ontario public service bureaucrat appears to be a clone of Dubé, to whom she reports at the same level as the deputy ombudsman. But perhaps we should give her an opportunity to prove us wrong. Hopefully, she doesn’t use Dubé as her role model.

If Dubé isn’t ready to properly do his job, he should give ample independence for Burke to do hers. And for both of them to give a press conference emphasizing their impartiality and to say that this includes refraining from expressing their position publicly is simply wrong.

As overseer, sure they’re impartial in receiving a complaint, but they are paid to investigate and express an opinion on whether the state’s decisions, among other things, are reasonable and if not, tell the government how to fix, and if necessary, in a public report. All of this is spelled out in the Ombudsman Act.

The second ingredient to the Ombudsman’s success is having a properly constituted infrastructure and the resources to fulfil its mandate. The Ombudsman Act was enacted by a Progressive Conservative government in 1975 and has withstood the test of time. The act was modernized over time and its budget received a substantial increase, almost doubling to $20.18 million in a matter of a few years.

Government agencies, boards and commissions that operate arm’s length from government almost invariably and chronically lament that they are underfunded. It’s definitely not the case for the Ombudsman office.

Having the right tools in their tool kit, and the necessary resources to do their work, Burke and Dubé should take advantage of their position of trust and fight for the rights of the francophone community and the public respectively.

There is no reason to believe either one doesn’t truly understand the power of their office to influence meaningful change, even if it means using their bully pulpit from time to time.


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