Ontario Ombudsman André Marin says he is facing "death by a thousand cuts" as he confronts the latest apparent effort to discredit him - copies of his expenses obtained by The Globe and Mail.
The documents show that Mr. Marin - the province's most prominent watchdog who spends his days holding everyone else to a high ethical standard - had taxpayers pick up the tab for personal grooming products, including Adidas body wash ($6.99), Degree deodorant ($4.49) and Gillette Fusion After Shave Balm ($7.99).
But taxpayers didn't just foot the bill for small-ticket items. They also paid for a 37-inch flat-screen television for his home office in Ottawa. The tab, including a high-definition cable box and wall mount: $1,965.97.
Mr. Marin is an officer of the Ontario Legislature, but the Ombudsman Act allows him to set his own rules governing expenses as long as they are reasonable. He uses the expense rules for federal civil servants, which are more generous than those that apply to provincial employees in Ontario. His expenses are vetted by two senior executives, both of whom report to him, and reviewed annually by the provincial auditor.
Mr. Marin says he is the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by Liberal insiders who want to derail his chances of remaining in his job. He was given a six-month extension when his term as Ombudsman expired March 31 and has applied for a second term.
During his five years in the job, Mr. Marin has made a name for himself as a fearless champion of the underdog. He has generated high-profile media attention for exposing problems at several government agencies, including the province's lottery corporation and the agencies that assess residential property taxes and claims from victims of violent crime.
He has also left a trail of former disgruntled employees who could not measure up to his standards.
"When you create such a climate, it encourages people to come forward with all types of things," Mr. Marin said during an interview in his Toronto office. "It tells people it's open season, let's cause him death by a thousand cuts."
As the watchdog who casts judgment on the shortcomings of the McGuinty government and its agencies, he is supposed to be above reproach. But in a reversal of roles for Mr. Marin, he is now under the microscope over his expenses.
Mr. Marin vigorously defended his expenses. He lives in Ottawa and divides his time between his home office there and Toronto, where he rents a condominium. The rules for federal employees in similar situations allow them to claim a per diem of $84.50, including $67.20 for meals and $17.30 for incidentals.
His version of the federal rules allows him to receive $40 a day for meals while in Toronto, which he collects. In addition, he can get reimbursed for grooming products and other incidentals if he submits detailed receipts.
The Globe obtained copies of receipts for grooming products as well as copies of his corporate credit card statements. Mr. Marin said there is a simple explanation for the slew of grooming products he purchased in March, 2006 - he and his staff had just moved to new premises in Toronto and he needed to stock up his office washroom.
In fact, he left the interview briefly to retrieve the Braun battery-powered toothbrush ($37.99), Lubriderm lotion ($9.99) and Gillette Fusion Power razor ($17.99) all purchased back in 2006 for his office washroom.
"If I had been charging you $17.30 a day for the last five years, you wouldn't see any receipts," Mr. Marin said. "I submit the receipts that are detailed and individualized, so I am in the position right now in 2010, four years later, to be quizzed on items, and frankly there's nothing to hide."
As for the television, he said he needs it to watch the daily Question Period in the Ontario Legislature while working in his Ottawa office. He said the TV belongs to the Ombudsman's office, so he will hand it over once he is no longer in the job. And he does not claim a tax deduction for using part of his Ottawa home as office space, he added.
Mr. Marin expressed frustration that his expense records were handed to The Globe and suggested he might have been too trusting when former employees were forced to resign.
"Maybe we should have frisked some of them on their way out, because they obviously left with records," he said.
Revelations over his expenses come at an awkward time for Mr. Marin, who was paid a salary of $216,000 last year. The expenses of government employees have come under heightened scrutiny after last year's scandal at eHealth Ontario. Premier Dalton McGuinty has vowed to crack down on nickel-and-dime expensing by consultants at eHealth who, in one case, charged taxpayers $1.65 for tea and $3.99 for Choco Bites.
An all-party panel of MPPs is presiding over the competition for the Ombudsman's job, a process that has become mired in controversy. New Democratic Party House Leader Peter Kormos lodged a formal complaint with the Speaker this week, accusing the government of intervening in what is supposed to be a non-partisan search process and of launching "scurrilous, malicious" attacks against Mr. Marin. But Speaker Steve Peters ruled on Thursday that the government was not in contempt of the legislature.
"I wish people would just knock off this smearing campaign," Mr. Marin said. "It must end. It can continue every day, and every day we will have an explanation because there's nothing to it."