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Ontario ombudsman's powers may be expanded to include municipalities

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is promising wide-ranging accountability legislation that could give Ontario’s ombudsman new powers to investigate school boards, colleges and municipalities.

The legislation, which is expected to be introduced in the next few weeks, would allow for greater access to government information.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, Wynne said she wants to make her government one of the most transparent in the country.

“If passed, it would strengthen political accountability, enhance oversight and increase transparency,” she said.

“Setting a high standard for accountability and transparency helps provide the kind of stable and predictable economic climate that businesses can have confidence investing in.”

The legislation would also give the provincial government the power to impose hard caps on salaries of public sector executives.

“It would also strengthen political accountability, increase transparency across the public service and at government agencies by requiring expense information for cabinet ministers, parliamentary assistants, opposition leaders and their respective staff to be posted online,” Wynne said.

Another measure includes clarifying rules for keeping government documents so that they aren’t destroyed in an attempt to avoid freedom of information requests.

Meantime, Ontario provincial police are investigating the deletion of emails in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office related to two cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga prior to the 2011 election, which cost taxpayers $1.1 billion.

The opposition parties say Wynne has little credibility when it comes to transparency and call the proposed legislation a political ploy by the Liberals.

Toronto’s reaction

Toronto’s ombudsman Fiona Crean said this appears to be an added level of bureaucracy.

“De facto we now have two ombudsmans. How is that serving the residents and city of Toronto? That’s my real concern,” Crean said.

Crean also questioned how the province could possibly investigate Toronto residents’ complaints as effectively as her Toronto office can. That sentiment was also echoed by Coun. Paula Fletcher.

“Our ombudsman has a very direct connection. We have something to deal with, we deal with it here. It can be dealt with very expeditiously,” she said.

Fletcher also said she found it a bit insulting to include Toronto in the provincial office when the city has had its own ombudsman for five years.

“I guess we’re just a child,” she said.

With files from The Canadian Press