It looks like the Ontario Ombudsman will have increased powers over the 444 municipalities of Ontario. According to an article in The Toronto Star, Bill 8 is currently before legislators at Queen's Park. Its passage would give André Marin the chance to field complaints about municipalities, universities and school boards regarding finances and conflicts of interest. One article describes Ombudsman Marin as "salivating over the prospect of delving into the town of Brampton's municipal finances after a spending scandal involving councillors and (now defeated) mayor Susan Fennell."
“Bill 8 would, if passed, extend the jurisdiction of the Ontario ombudsman to include municipalities and provide everyone with access to an ombudsman,” said Mark Cripps, a spokesman for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
"Deeply important issues affecting the management of cities have been ignored for years. For example, in many Ontario cities, developers continue to have direct access to municipal officials, often with little oversight.
The line between politicians’ private fundraising efforts and how they use such activities to gain influence is blurred. Conflict of interest laws deal with votes in council chambers but don’t address what council members do outside them." (Toronto Star)
The people from Fort Erie had a chance to see and hear André Marin when he spoke to council in December 2007 before being chosen as the representative for municipal complaints regarding closed council sessions. At the time, the town was considering using the staff recommended Local Authority Services Association, vetted by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, as its investigator. That would cost the municipality a $300. per year retainer and $1200. per day for an investigation. The Ombudsman's Office, while independent, is funded by the taxpayers i.e. free. Then Ward 6 Councillor Ann Marie Noyes persuaded the council to consider Marin's department. Marin and a couple of Ombudsman's Office staff members came through a snow storm to appear before council. He gave an informative, professional presentation and his office was eventually chosen by the town over the Association of Municipalities of Ontario's recommendation.
So, we'll be hearing more from Marin in the future as he takes on added responsibilities. He has done a lot to make sure that local councils maintain high standards. Incidentally, Fort Erie has remained high on the list of complaint-driven investigations. Too bad Marin wasn't in charge a couple of years ago. The conflict-of-interest lawsuit against The Four councillors would never have gotten as far as it did. Would have been investigated and thrown out - as it will be in the courts. However, the negative publicity helped ruin their chances in the latest election. Only one, Don Lubberts was able to retain his seat in Ward 6. (He is also being sued by EDTC GM Jim Thibert in a separate conflict of interest suit.)
André Marin has proven himself to be a hard-working, honest advocate for the people of Ontario. I look forward to him taking on his new responsibility.
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