For 10 years, André Marin was a thorn in the side of Ontario's governing Liberals.
The ombudsman's hard-hitting reports called the government out for the "five-metre rule" that allowed for arbitrary arrests at the G20 summit, accused Hydro One of lying to regulators to cover up a massive billing problem and critiqued the Local Health Integration Networks, one of the centrepieces of the Liberals' restructuring of the health-care system.
Privately, Liberal insiders (and the odd opposition member, too) complained that Mr. Marin's reports were sensationalist and that his hyperbolic style – he called the G20 "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history" – amounted to little more than shameless grandstanding.
But there was nothing, it seemed, they could do about it. Under former premier Dalton McGuinty, the government touched off a political firestorm when it tried (and failed) to push Mr. Marin out the door five years ago.
Then last week, just like that, he was gone, turfed via executive order from Premier Kathleen Wynne's cabinet.
The episode was a political master class in silencing a particularly tenacious critic. In the end, a combination of subtlety and sheer nerve allowed Ms. Wynne to succeed where Mr. McGuinty did not.
The background: the ombudsman is an independent officer of the legislature, tasked with investigating problems in government and making recommendations on fixing them. To ensure the ombudsman is non-partisan and neutral, all three parties typically agree by consensus on whom to appoint to the role.
The hiring process, which is supposed to be confidential, is run by a committee of three MPPs, one from each party, chaired by the Speaker.
When Mr. Marin's first five-year term was up in 2010, and he applied for a second, word leaked out that the Liberals wanted to give the job to someone else. Both opposition parties rallied to his defence. In the resulting furor, the Liberals backed down. The three parties agreed to give Mr. Marin a second term.
That term expired in the spring, and Mr. Marin made it clear he wanted a third. The three parties agreed to extend his mandate by four months to give themselves time to make a decision.
The Liberals, again, wanted to get rid of Mr. Marin. But they did not express any displeasure with him publicly, instead hewing to the official line that the hiring process would unfold and that would be that. The NDP made clear they wanted Mr. Marin reappointed. The Tories, for their part, stayed quiet.
The process deadlocked. With the NDP dead set on keeping Mr. Marin and the Liberals wanting him to go, it was probably inevitable there could be no consensus. Adding to the indecision, the National Post reported that the PCs decided during the hiring process that they preferred Howard Sapers, a former federal corrections watchdog.
With the end of Mr. Marin's term extension looming last week and no decision in sight, the Liberals made their move.
First, Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi announced the hiring process would have to start again from scratch.
Then, he declared that instead of giving Mr. Marin another extension, the legislature should install his deputy, Barbara Finlay, as acting ombudsman until the parties could agree on a permanent ombudsman. The NDP blocked this move in the House and proposed an extension for Mr. Marin, which the Liberals refused.
On Sept. 15, the Liberals passed a cabinet resolution – effectively, an executive order – to install Ms. Finlay. Mr. Marin was out the door.
Whether the government can actually do this is open to debate: the legislation stipulates cabinet can appoint an interim ombudsman "in the event of the death or resignation of the ombudsman … or if the ombudsman is unable or neglects to perform the functions of his or her office."
The legislation seems to be designed for emergency situations where an ombudsman is suddenly incapacitated. Whether the government is allowed to use the provision to replace the ombudsman at the end of his term with a person of the government's choice is an open question. The NDP complained to Speaker Dave Levac, who will have to decide whether this potentially constitutes a breach of parliamentary privilege.
Whatever Mr. Levac decides may end up being largely academic – the Liberals can use their legislative majority to block or at least indefinitely delay any contempt proceedings. Plus, they got what they wanted in getting Mr. Marin out of office. Mission accomplished.
So, how did Ms. Wynne pull this off?
For one, she played it cool. The Liberals were careful not to air any of their many complaints about Mr. Marin publicly. They avoided turning the story into a David-and-Goliath narrative of the powerful provincial government muzzling a loud-barking watchdog. And they didn't tell anyone about the plans for an executive order until after it had been passed.
Second, she kept her nerve. Where Mr. McGuinty's people swiftly decided Mr. Marin's appointment was not a fight worth picking, Ms. Wynne held fast and let Mr. Marin's term lapse. Then, she doubled down and filled his office via cabinet order.
Circumstance, of course, played a part.
In 2010, the Progressive Conservatives went to bat for Mr. Marin as well, putting added pressure on the government. That was not the case here.
And Mr. Marin did himself no favours. In the spring, as the hiring process was getting under way, he took to Twitter, asking his followers to press the government to reappoint him. In the avalanche of ensuing tweets, he retweeted some that called Ms. Wynne "corrupt" and accused her of turning Ontario into a "banana republic."
Perhaps Mr. Marin will make a comeback – though at this point, that would probably require the support of both opposition parties, and the Liberals losing their nerve.
But if not, this will stand as a suitably dramatic conclusion to Mr. Marin's often-theatrical decade at Queen's Park.