Queen's Park watchdogs won't have terms extended
TORONTO - If the Ontario government is serious about being open and transparent in choosing new provincial watchdogs it should open up the hiring process to the public and media, ombudsman Andre Marin said Wednesday.
Marin -- whose reports have delivered more than a few bare-knuckled blows to the Liberals -- environmental commissioner Gord Miller and integrity commissioner Lynn Morrison may all be looking for new jobs soon, as the government has decided not to renew their contracts.
Instead, all three will have to go before an all-party panel and compete for their jobs with any outside candidates, if they still want it.
Marin, whose five-year contract expires March 31, said he plans to seek a second term and doesn't object to a competition.
"How can you argue against a fair and transparent process?" he said in an interview.
"If the job of ombudsman is so important that it requires a competition after five years and they want a fair and transparent process, the only way to do it is to blow open the doors and allow the public and the light to scrutinize the proceedings."
The decision to start a competitive process just a few weeks before Miller's five-year term was up seems to have thrown him for a loop as well.
Miller, whose contract expires April 25, said he also plans to re-apply for his job -- a process he underwent in 2005 before he was approved for a second term.
He was hoping to have his contract renewed, which the Liberals did with information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian, because they expanded his responsibilities last spring under the new Green Energy Act, he said.
"I was surprised, because I sort of assumed that because it was so left so late and I had so many new responsibilities and we're in a major transition," Miller said.
"It's an awkward time to change the person at the top."
Now he's concerned that he may not be able to finish three reports that are currently in the works unless he's granted a temporary extension, which he got in 2005.
They include two reports on greenhouse gas reductions and energy conservation and efficiency policy that were supposed to be released in May and his annual report, which he hoped to complete in June.
"All that work has to be done in the next few weeks," he said.
"Now I'm not sure when it will be received because there doesn't appear to be enough time left between now and April 25 to run any kind of competition."
Premier Dalton McGuinty defended the move Wednesday, saying all three posts are good and "highly sought after" jobs.
"There are a lot of Ontarians who are interested in those jobs," he said.
"The fair thing to do under those circumstances, going forward, is to have an opportunity for folks who already have these jobs to re-apply and for others who are interested on the outside to get a shot at this as well."
The Liberals can still strong-arm the selection process by putting a motion before the legislature to approve their choice of candidate, then use their majority to ram it through, said NDP critic Peter Kormos.
Given the cakewalk they gave Cavoukian, it appears the Liberals are trying to silence their toughest critics like Marin, who "scares the government silly," he said.
Marin has long been a thorn in the Liberals' side, most recently slamming the government for cutting off cancer patients from a potential life-saving drug called Avastin.
And Miller's last report predicted the province wouldn't be able to meet its own reduction targets for greenhouse gases, even if the Liberals did everything they promised to do to fight climate change.
It came just a few days before Environment Minister John Gerretsen, who has loudly denounced Ottawa's reduction targets, arrived in Copenhagen for a United Nations summit on climate change.
"I think there should be real concern about whether the government is trying, with its treatment of Mr. Marin and Mr. Miller, to send a clear message to their successors that if you're overzealous in your pursuit of your responsibilities as ombudsman or environment commissioner, that you can't expect to be around here very long," Kormos said.
But it was Kormos's complaints over Cavoukian's re-appointment that prompted a return to the competitive process that's been in place for years, said government House Leader Monique Smith, who put the wheels in motion last week.
No Ontario ombudsman has been re-appointed to a second term since the office was created in 1975, Smith said.