On Wednesday December 11, Ontario’s Ombudsman, Andre Marin, released his second annual report on his office’s investigation into municipal closed meetings.

The report leads with the premise that a “public spotlight exposes troubling local secrecy” and he calls upon the Ontario Government to “strengthen the Sunshine Law” that governs municipal use of closed meetings.

By “strengthening” it, Mr. Marin means that there should be one investigator to oversee all municipalities. He laments that municipalities “shop around” to find “friendly” investigators. And he states that, “too many city councils have an addiction to secrecy.” You can watch his presentation online.

The Municipal Act says a municipality can have its own Auditor General and its own Integrity Officer. In 2008, that Act also mandated closed meeting investigators. In many ways, the Province extended to municipal governments the same authority that it holds for itself – to appoint people to do these functions.

For example, the day before Marin’s news conference, Ontario’s Auditor General, Bonnie Lysyk delivered a hard-hitting report that was factual and impartial. She reminds us that Ontario is blessed with plenty of decent and professional people who can be trusted to provide honest oversight.

Secondly, she demonstrated that the Ontario Government can be trusted to appoint honest and independent people to review its own operations – just as the federal government is trusted to appoint honest and independent people to oversee federal operations.

Municipal governments have been put in the same position – to demonstrate that they can be trusted – and that good government comes from within.

Ontario’s Municipal Act captures this broad belief in the integrity of Ontarians, and the belief that duly elected governments need to be more than what the Ombudsman refers to as “MUSH.”

The province saw it this way when the legislature reviewed and approved the Municipal Act. Almost all municipal decisions are debated in open forums. We estimate that collectively Ontario’s municipal governments hold more than 20,000 meetings each year to discuss more than 100,000 agenda items. Closed meeting concerns have been raised about less than 0.01% of these decisions.  

We can strengthen municipal government by adhering to closed meeting rules even more successfully. It is for these reasons that AMO believes open municipal government is alive in Ontario, and we appreciate the fact that Ontario’s Municipal Act challenges municipalities to earn public trust on their own two feet.

LAS offers an Investigator service that is impartial, credible, confidential and independent. More information can be found at: What you need to know about closing meetings.

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