Ontarios watchdog slams government organizations

Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin had harsh words for government organizations that he said are over-promising and under-delivering.

In Marin’s second annual report released yesterday, he said that grandiose promises made by these organizations have been revealed to be “puffery” under close examination by his office.

“Puffery is antithetical to open and transparent government, corrosive of public trust and even harmful to meaningful democracy,” warned Marin. “It is therefore serious business when government departments and agencies make promises they cannot or will not keep, or attempting to paper over their failings with ostentatious claims.”

The Ombudsman’s 2006-2007 report examines investigations into provincial organizations that did not deliver on their public commitments, according to Marin.

These organizations include: the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, the Family Responsibility Office, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

Though the annual report has no title, Marin said he was tempted to call it The Year of Overpromising and Underdelivering.

Marin emphasized the need to “put the ‘serve’ back in public service through leadership and innovation.”

“Citizens go to their government when they are in need, and often when they are at their most vulnerable,” he said.

Marin did not mince words when it came to doling out criticism. For example, he said that the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation had bragged that it was a global leader in property assessment, “until our organization found that it was actually an arrogant cutthroat agency with little regard for homeowners.”

“We exposed similar illusions – or delusions – held by the Family Responsibility Office, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, all of which presented a proud public face for years, when in reality they were callously ignoring the suffering of the very people that they, as public servants, were obligated to serve.”

All of Marin’s recommendations in the cases cited in the report have been accepted, and he lauded the government for its co-operation in resolving several complaints without the need for a formal Ombudsman report.

Marin also pointed to problems that lie within what he referred to as the MUSH sector (i.e. municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals and long-term care facilities, and other services including children’s aid societies).

“Ontario remains the only province in Ontario where citizens cannot turn to their Ombudsman if they have a problem with children’s aid societies,” said Marin. “The situation is similar for hospitals, long-term care facilities, school boards or police.”

“My office hears complaints from thousands of people every year about these crucial publicly-funded services, but we are powerless to help them…the government could change this, but this past year it expressly chose not to – it repeatedly turned down legislative opportunities to remove these institutions from their zones of immunity.”

Marin said he is hopeful that the government will “do the right thing” and open up these institutions to the same scrutiny that is received by every other public service in Ontario.

The Ombudsman will answer questions about the report in an online chat accessible to the public on Thursday, June 28 at 1:00 pm. To register for the chat go to www.ombudsman.on.ca

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