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Ont. gov't over-promises but underperforms: ombud
TORONTO - The Ontario government's credibility is "dying a slow death'' because ministries and provincial agencies ignore problems and instead boast about their strong performances, Ombudsman Andre Marin said Wednesday.
Marin compared his annual report on government to report cards for students, and said even though he doesn't usually title them, he was tempted to label this one "The Year of Over-promising and Under-delivering.''
"Certainly, for lofty ambitions, I would give them an A,'' Marin said after releasing his report. "But for actually delivering on those lofty ambitions, I would give them a C.''
The ombudsman said all too often, when a provincial ministry, agency or board is described as incompetent by the public, its reaction is to sideline the issue and proclaim itself as world-class.
Ontario's Municipal Property Assessment Corp. bragged that it was a "global leader'' until Marin's investigation called it "an arrogant, cutthroat agency with little regard for homeowners.''
Marin said his office exposed similar "delusions'' held by the Family Responsibility Office, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.
They all presented a proud public face when in reality "they were callously ignoring the suffering of the very people that they were obligated to serve,'' he wrote.
"It reminded me of Muhammad Ali when he said, `I'm the greatest and I said that even before I was,' '' Marin said.
"The difference is, of course, that he floated like a butterfly, and those Ontarians who've dealt with these agencies felt more like they dealt with a 10-pound brick.''
Marin called the practice of over-promising and under-delivering "puffery,'' and said it undermines the public's trust in government.
"Puffery can become a shield for inertia and apathy,'' he wrote. "If governments and their agencies believe they can hustle the public, they will be tempted to leave their programs under-resourced and flawed.''
Marin also found myriad examples of "a rigid, unthinking adherence'' to rules within government, even when their applications make little sense.
For example, a mother suffering from multiple sclerosis and living on disability supports had her special diet allowance slashed from $250 a month to $20 because her doctor failed to check off the right section on a form.
"Strict adherence to rules turned a minor error into a major health problem for this mother of three,'' Marin noted.
Opposition Leader John Tory said Marin's report confirmed what he's been telling people about the Liberals.
"I've been saying for some time now that this was a government founded on a lot of big claims and photo opportunities, and not on results,'' Tory said.
"Leadership is about producing real results on real problems for real people, and I think (Premier) Dalton McGuinty has miserably failed that test.''
The New Democrats said McGuinty is directly to blame for the problems uncovered by the ombudsman.
"He is the premier that has over-promised and under-delivered, and the report makes that abundantly clear,'' said NDP critic Paul Ferreira.
"Dalton McGuinty's credibility gap has just expanded another mile.''
In his report, Marin again said his office should have the power to investigate police, municipalities, universities, schools, hospitals, and all other institutions funded by the provincial government.
"Ontario remains the only province in Canada where citizens cannot turn to their ombudsman if they have a problem with Children's Aid societies ... hospitals, long-term care facilities, school boards or police,'' he wrote.
"This is a downright embarrassing situation for Ontario.''
Ferreira said he doubted the Liberals would ever grant the ombudsman the authority to investigate the broader public sector, but Tory said a Conservative government would consider expanding Marin's powers.
"There shouldn't be a single government program or a penny of government money that isn't overseen by somebody,'' Tory said.
"It's logical that if it's not to be overseen by MPPs, that the ombudsman would be a good place where some of these things should be looked at.''
Marin will hold an online chat Thursday at 1 p.m. ET to answer questions from the public about his annual report. To register, go to www.ombudsman.on.ca.