Government transparency, accountability lacking

By MPP Toby Barrett

In the past week, Ontario Ombudsman André Marin has called on the McGuinty government to lift the veil of secrecy following his investigations revealing a lack of transparency and accountability.

As anyone familiar with the Ombudsman’s Office knows, its role is to ensure government works in the best interests of its citizens by brokering settlements; helping people navigate bureaucracy, and exposing impediments to accessing public services. Investigations into public complaints over the last year have resulted in Marin’s most recent annual report.

Government should be the leader in openness, access, and service – not the last frontier. You have the right to expect better service from government just as you do with any other organization.

Openness improves the quality of decision-making, enhances effective government, strengthens democracy and allows taxpayers access to the information required to participate in their government.

As Marin notes: “Philosophers, jurists and politicians have long recognized that incompetence, mismanagement, and even corruption thrive in the dark but cannot bear the sanitizing light of day. Openness therefore advances moral, conscionable, and ethical government. It also promotes honesty and enables the rule of law to apply.”

Over the eight years of McGuinty government we’ve seen a disturbing trend away from accountability with predictable results. Marin’s report points to less openness and transparency, culminating in what he called the “granddaddy of secret maneuvers”; the G20 secret law that Marin attributes to a, “massive violations of civil rights”. Regrettably, Marin has never reported on Caledonia.

We see other examples of Dalton McGuinty acting without accountability:

• backroom deals are struck with large corporations – like Samsung
• secret pay hikes government doesn’t want you to know about; and
• billion dollar scandals lie eHealth go unpunished:

Ontario government’s manoeuvring and lack of transparency has kept the Ombudsman’s office hopping. Many will recall Marin’s 2007 scathing report into the Ontario Lottery and Gaming scandal over pay-outs to dishonest retailers. And yet in 2009 further accountability measures were required after OLG board expenses were filed that included memberships in gyms and weight watchers memberships, golf fees, bar tabs and nanny fees.

Then, in August 2010, Marin wrote a report indicating that Ontario’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) need greater transparency. He said that, despite being set up by the McGuinty government to make the healthcare system more responsive to the needs of communities, the LHIN’s had “fallen short of the political spin.” Among his findings, Marin noted that, LHINs had, contrary to their public-engagement mandate, illegally allowed closed meetings for “education” purposes. All LHINs have since changed their bylaws and adopted new guidelines for community engagement.

There is nothing more frustrating to Ontario families than the sense they’re being kept in the dark, and are dealing with a government where accountability and trust seem to have become an afterthought.

We need a new approach to implement measures and will promote the concept of open government to allow citizens to bring forward innovative ideas on public policy.
While it’s important that the Ombudsman office has oversight, politicians and public servants must also hold themselves to account. Why should it take an officer of the legislature to do the work of cabinet ministers and elected members?” For too long, people in Ontario have seen a lack of respect for their ideas and input, and for their tax dollars.