As Midland’s Municipal Council has previously been cited for closed meeting abuses and continues to have numerous closed (in-camera) meetings that many feel are inappropriate use of the few circumstances that allow for them, and that they are using the closed meetings to discuss matters that should be in the public meetings, we welcome the broad new powers being granted by the Province. Midland Council can expect the Ombudsman in the days to come and will have to justify their wide and frequent use of closed meetings since taking office last year.
What is troubling to the community – and should be equally troubling to Councillors is that when there is a legitimate reason to go into a closed session (there are a few limited provisions that require this) that the moment those items are done with, that they return to an open meeting and not slip a couple extra items in while they are in closed session. The CAO/Clerk should be very mindful of when Council strays onto new topics not protected by the closed meeting rules and advise Council to return to an open meeting again.
The abuse of the closed meeting is an affront to democracy, transparency and governmental process where the public has the right to know about the topics and debates being discussed that could have or will have an impact on our community, its resources, personnel (in totality) and its services.
Part of Ontario’s Open Government initiative, The Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act strengthens political accountability, makes the business of government more transparent, and gives Officers of the Legislature more responsibility in their roles.
The legislation will provide more oversight over and accountability at arms-length government entities, ensuring tax dollars are spent wisely as the government delivers on its commitment to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18. In addition, this act will give the government the ability to control the compensation of executives in broader public sector service organizations such as Ornge, eHealth, Metrolinx, OLG and the LCBO.
In addition, the legislation will:
- Expand the Ontario Ombudsman’s role to include municipalities, school boards and publicly-funded universities.
- Require cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants, opposition leaders and their respective staff to post their expenses online, making Ontario a leader in expense reporting.
- Require the Speaker to post online MPP expense information for out-of-riding travel, hotel accommodation related to that travel, meals and hospitality.
- Allow the government to appoint a Patient Ombudsman to respond to complaints about public hospitals, long-term care homes, and community care access centres.
- Expand the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth’s mandate, providing oversight and new powers to investigate children’s aid societies.
- Give the government greater oversight of air ambulance service providers, including the ability to appoint members to the board of directors as well as supervisors and special investigators and measures to protect whistleblowers.
- Modernize lobbyist registration by requiring businesses and organizations to register when their staff spend at least 50 hours per year lobbying government and provide the Ontario Integrity Commissioner as Lobbyist Registrar with investigative powers and the ability to impose penalties, including prohibiting individuals from lobbying for up to two years.
Barrie’s CTV News reports:
Acting Ombudsman Barbara Finlay says her office will have new powers to investigate complaints against municipal councils effective January 1.
The change comes after a particularly active period for city council meetings that were closed to the public between Sept. 1, 2014 and Aug. 31 of this year.
Finlay released a report saying her office received 195 complaints about closed council meetings, reviewed 85 of them and found 16 to be illegal. The number of complaints jumped 73 per cent from fiscal 2014.
The Ombudsman found that Council for the Town of Midland discussed issues in closed session on multiple occasions between December 2011 and March 2012 in circumstances that were not permitted under the exceptions to the Municipal Act.
The Ombudsman found that the Town of Midland Planning and Development Committee’s consideration of a zoning dispute in its November 7, 2012 closed meeting was permitted under the “potential litigation” exception to the open meeting requirements, as there was a very real potential that litigation would occur if the particular zoning matter was not resolved. However, the Ombudsman noted that the closed meeting record was deficient in that it did not include information concerning a vote that took place in the closed session and did not reflect a discussion that the Committee reportedly held on whether or not the zoning issue properly fell within the “potential litigation” exception.