(TORONTO – March 6, 2014) Ontario Ombudsman André Marin today welcomed the provincial government’s announcement that it will extend his office’s mandate into the “MUSH sector” – the vast, provincially-funded broader public sector comprising municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals, as well as long-term care homes, children’s aid societies and police.
The changes will allow citizens to complain about government-funded organizations that have historically been immune to the Ombudsman’s independent scrutiny.
The bill would empower the Ombudsman to investigate public complaints about municipalities, universities and school boards. It also creates a new Patient Ombudsman for complaints about hospitals and long-term care homes, and gives the existing Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth the power to investigate children’s aid societies.
“At long last, Ontario is poised to rectify the accident of history that left millions of citizens with nowhere to complain about the public bodies that touched their lives most closely,” Mr. Marin said. “If this bill passes, it will finally open the MUSH sector to the same kind of independent investigative scrutiny given to every other aspect of the provincial government.”
Because the Ombudsman reports not to government but to the Legislative Assembly as a whole, the change is an assurance of greater transparency for all MPPs and the public, Mr. Marin stressed. “The Ombudsman and other officers of the Legislature serve as checks and balances on government, ensuring that it – in all its complexity – is functioning efficiently and with the confidence of its citizens,” he said. “Ensuring the MUSH sector is subject to the same checks and balances is simply good for democracy, period.”
Ontario’s first Ombudsman, Arthur Maloney, called for the MUSH sector to be subject to his office’s scrutiny in a report published in March 1979, and his successors have reiterated this position. Since Mr. Marin’s appointment in 2005, his office has received than 20,000 complaints about MUSH sector bodies, even though the public is aware that they can’t be investigated.
These have included concerns about corruption in municipal government, mistreatment of patients in hospitals and long-term care homes, school board policies on bullying, deaths of children in CAS care, and unfairness to university students. Wherever possible, Ombudsman staff refer complainants to other appropriate authorities.
The new legislation comes in the wake of years of public demonstrations, rallies and calls to expand Ombudsman oversight to all or part of the MUSH sector. Since 2005, there have been more than 130 petitions and 15 private member’s bills tabled in the legislature to this effect, supported by members of all parties.
Ontario is the last province in Canada to open its MUSH sector to Ombudsman oversight. All other provinces have moved to extend the jurisdiction of their ombudsmen to hospitals, long-term care and child protection.
“If these measures are implemented, Ontario will go from being dead last in Canada to one of the leaders in MUSH sector scrutiny,” said Mr. Marin, whose office was consulted in the final stages of drafting the bill. “I look forward to seeing this bill come before the Legislature. It is a strong step toward a more democratic, accountable and open Ontario.”
The Ontario Ombudsman’s office handles about 20,000 public complaints per year, has 80 staff and a budget of just over $11 million. It resolves individual complaints quickly wherever possible and also investigates broad systemic issues affecting large numbers of people. The Ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding, but have been overwhelmingly accepted by government. Ombudsman investigations since 2005 have sparked widespread reforms, including better screening of newborn babies, improved security for lottery players, more transparent property tax assessment, more compensation for crime victims and fairer drug funding policies.
For backgrounder and a statement from the Ombudsman, go to www.ombudsman.on.ca The Ombudsman will speak to journalists in a conference call at 1:45 p.m. – audio will be posted thereafter at www.ombudsman.on.ca. On Twitter: @Ont_Ombudsman
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