The Ontario Ombudsman’s powers to investigate municipal governments may become vastly expanded.

Some municipal governments seem to operate without any accountability between elections. 

ontario ombudsman

Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin speaks at a news conference at Queens Park in Toronto on Feb. 4, 2014. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS

If your mayor or councilperson does not return phone calls, acts in a hyper-partisan way, or refuses to listen to ratepayers’ concerns there has been very little you can do but vote them out of office every four years.

A potential boost to democracy from the provincial governmentOntario set to strengthen Ombudsman’s powers:

Ontario is set to vastly expand the powers of the provincial Ombudsman, allowing the independent watchdog to investigate municipalities, universities and school boards, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Ombudsman André Marin has long argued that the province shields too many agencies from his scrutiny, giving people who have problems with them no independent office to call for help.

The bill will at least partly satisfy his demands. It will not, however, allow him oversight of the health-care sector, something he has long sought. Instead, the law is expected to create a different transparency mechanism for health. A hard-biting watchdog with a knack for drawing public attention to problems and mistakes in the province, Mr. Marin has long been a thorn in the side of the government, which may help explain why Queen’s Park has often been reluctant to grant him more latitude.

But giving him the right to look into municipalities and local agencies, in particular, will represent a massive expansion of his role, allowing him into a whole new level of government. Most municipalities in Ontario do not have independent watchdogs of their own, meaning the new rules will expose them to an unprecedented level of scrutiny.

There seems to be so many municipal government controversies:

The province’s move comes on the heels of several major municipal controversies in recent years. London Mayor Joe Fontana is facing fraud charges. In Brampton, Mayor Susan Fennell is the subject of an audit after she and her staff spent $185,000 on airfare and hotels in the past five years. Brampton councillors, meanwhile, are also in the spotlight for using tax money to pay for symphony tickets and home security systems.

And in Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford was nearly ejected from office for using city letterhead to solicit donations to his football team from lobbyists.

Mr. Marin has accused some municipalities of secrecy for holding meetings behind closed doors. In one particularly damning report last year, he concluded that a group of London councillors had violated provincial law by holding a “back room” meeting at a restaurant a few days before a budget vote. Mr. Marin currently has some limited powers to investigate municipalities, but councils have the right to opt out of his oversight.

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