Kathleen Wynne is launching a massive new accountability program across the Ontario government in a bid to put to rest the ghosts of scandals past that have haunted her Liberal administration.
The sweeping legislation – which includes everything from fines for politicians and staff who destroy government documents to requirements that elected officials post all expenses online – is the Ontario Premier’s most concrete attempt yet to make a clean break from the troubles of her predecessor’s final days in office.
“I came into this office just over a year ago saying that I was going to do government differently, that we were going to open up and be more transparent,” Ms. Wynne said at the legislature. “That is what we’re doing.”
The proposed law, tentatively titled the Accountability Act, will be tabled later this month, but the government outlined the broad strokes on Thursday.
One provision will make it illegal to get rid of government records, and slap $5,000 fines on anyone who does. This measure is a direct response to the gas plant scandal, during which aides to former premier Dalton McGuinty deleted emails and inquired about wiping hard drives that may have contained information on a controversial billion-dollar decision to cancel two new electricity generating stations. The issue clouded Mr. McGuinty’s final term and led to an ongoing police investigation.
Ever since she took over as Premier, Ms. Wynne has tried to change course, releasing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents on the gas plants and testifying twice before a legislative committee on the subject.
Asked if her proposed law is a rebuke of Mr. McGuinty, she replied: “I am Kathleen Wynne, and it’s an initiative of this government – here, now.”
The legislation would also give ombudsman André Marin the power to investigate municipalities, schools and universities. The province’s children and youth advocate would be allowed to investigate children’s aid societies, and a new ombudsman position would be created for the health care sector.
Mr. Marin hailed the legislation as “a renaissance for oversight in Ontario.” Ever since the ombudsman’s office was created in the late 1970s, it has been pushing for oversight of municipalities, universities, schools and health care (known as the MUSH sector), he said.
“Today’s announcement that the government plans to increase accountability of the MUSH sector marks the beginning of historic change in Ontario, one that has been 35 years in the making,” Mr. Marin told reporters.
He called it “unfortunate” that the new health ombudsman would report to the government bureaucracy – rather than be an independent officer of the legislature, as Mr. Marin is, but said he was satisfied with the law overall.
Under the act, the government could impose salary caps on civil servants.
High-level mandarins and all MPPs, plus staff to ministers, the Premier and party leaders, would have to post their expenses online.
The Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats said they support the bill’s principles, but will wait for the full text before deciding how to vote. And they accused the Grits of acting for purely political reasons.
“Taxpayers have every right to see what their money’s being spent on,” PC MPP Doug Holyday said. “It’s really unfortunate that these people who have been so closed and secretive about what they’ve been doing ... have now, as we close in on an election, suddenly seen the light.”
Added NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson: “They’ve been government for 10 years and they’ve had a chance to do the things they put forward today. This is nothing but crass politics.”