The Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014 (Bill 179) for the broader public sector, with proposed new requirements, to be imposed on municipal governments.

Today the government introduced new accountability legislation which is broad in scope and deals with, among other matters:

  • Expanding Ontario Ombudsman’s role to municipalities, school boards, and publicly funded universities; the processes for each will be somewhat different.
  • Expanding the role of the Ontario Ombudsman after municipal local complaint processes are completed.
  • Establishing a Patient Ombudsman to help patients resolve complaints against public hospitals, long-term care homes, and Community Care Access Centres.
  • Providing Management Board of Cabinet the authority to obtain compensation information and regulatory authority to set compensation frameworks and undertake compliance audits applicable to executives of designated employers in the broader public sector (i.e., hospitals, universities, colleges, school boards, Hydro One and provincial hydro entities, Community Care Access Centres, and others if prescribed) and require organizations to post their business plans and other relevant financial documents.
  • Clarifying retention of emails and offences against wilful destruction, concealment, which is to apply to municipal governments as well through amendments to MFIPA.
  • Identifying expenses of MPPs including out of riding expenses to be posted and 90 day timeline for posting.
  • Changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act including additional investigation authority and increased penalties for non-compliance.
The Bill itself will not be available publicly until it is posted on the Legislature’s website, which usually takes 24 hours. It is a very large piece of legislation, amending numerous Acts.

At this point, we have few details to share about the proposed legislation. We do know that some of the details will fall to regulations, which means some questions may be challenging to get answers to in the short term. AMO is undertaking follow up meetings with Ministry of Government Services and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on an urgent basis.

On March 6, AMO shared with it members some early concerns when the Premier Wynne announced the high level direction within which she was proceeding. Since then, there has been no public information available other than that provided by the Ontario Ombudsman, who indicated then that he had input and had seen the draft legislation. Some of his previous commentary appears to be at odds with what the government shared today with AMO, particularly with respect to local boards.

What’s new for Municipal Governments?

1. Oversight framework:
  • The government is proposing to maintain the closed meeting ‘default’ model and will apply this ‘default’ model to municipal services complaints by individuals. In other words, municipal governments will be required to have their own municipal ombudsman and if not, then the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman would have jurisdiction as it does for closed meetings.
  • Even if there is a municipally appointed local ombudsman and closed meeting investigator, the Ontario Ombudsman would have the jurisdiction to investigate complaint(s) after a local ombudsman or closed meeting investigator process has been completed and reported. In practice, this could result in ‘double oversight’ and effectively means a previous investigation is not necessarily the last stop. The Municipal Act and the Toronto Act already require the function of these positions to be independent and impartial; to maintain confidentiality and have credible investigative process.
  • In addition, we understand that the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office could initiate a broader systemic investigation on its own if it identified a broader systemic matter as a result of one or more local ombudsman’s complaint investigations or on its own.

2. Applicability to Local Boards:

We are told that the current local board definition, including its exception (section 223.1 of the Municipal Act) will not be changed. In other words, police services boards, library boards, boards of health, boards of long-term care, and Children’s Aid Societies and municipal corporations created under S. 203 of the Municipal Act will not be included within the scope of any of investigators, including the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman. The Ontario Ombudsman has been suggesting publicly and to the media that his Office would have this jurisdiction.

AMO’s Early Commentary:

  • AMO is disappointed that pre-consultation on this government’s policy objective did not occur and that the Province-AMO MOU process on this particular matter was marginalized.
  • The double oversight approach suggests that the government does not trust a municipal ombudsman or a closed meeting investigator to meet the Municipal Act’s or Toronto Act’s existing provisions for independence and impartiality, confidentiality, and a credible investigative process. There has been no evidence provided by the government that these systems are not functioning.
  • There are a great number of questions related to the proposed legislation and how it would be implemented that will need explanation (e.g., will there be timeframes or other conditions for requesting a referral to the Ontario Ombudsman; what changes will be needed to administer the legislation provincially and locally).
  • The government must clarify the proposed authority of the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman and make sure that it is fully understood by all.
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