With his newly expanded mandate, one of the Ontario Ombudsman's top priorities will be to investigate concerns about unethical hiring practices at city hall in Brampton.
Bill 8, the Accountability and Transparency Act, passed in the Ontario legislature this week and it has expanded André Marin's authority in more than 400 municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals. Once his new powers come into effect, he said, he hopes to start looking into Brampton's bureaucracy because new Mayor Linda Jeffrey has told him she is "extremely concerned about the state of the culture there."
The city, plagued for two years by scandals connected to former mayor Susan Fennell and a dysfunctional council, elected Linda Jeffrey as mayor along with six new councillors this fall. In her inauguration speech this month, Ms. Jeffrey announced she had asked former provincial auditor-general Jim McCarter to review the city's finances and Mr. Marin to review city hall operations.
Weeks before her swearing-in, Ms. Jeffrey, the former provincial municipal affairs minister, invited Mr. Marin to meet with her, her staff and former Ontario premier Bill Davis at Mr. Davis's Brampton home, Mr. Marin said. At that meeting, she asked him if he would come to Brampton to review practices at city hall – an unprecedented invitation, he said.
"There were concerns about bureaucracy at the City of Brampton, about staffing issues, hiring issues, nepotism, those kinds of things," Mr. Marin said.
Ms. Jeffrey said she hopes Mr. Marin will make recommendations that will improve accountability and transparency at city hall – the pillars of her seven-month campaign to be mayor this year.
"If you don't hold people to account, sometimes they do things that wouldn't normally meet the test," she said.
Ms. Jeffrey was elected to council in 1991, but left in 2003. She has told The Globe and Mail she is not convinced by some of the things municipal staff – including city manager John Corbett – have told her about the state of the city.
"I'm coming back to council not knowing whether what I'm being told is happening is happening," she said.
Although the bill is now law, it could be months before Mr. Marin can exercise his new powers.
On Wednesday at their first regular meeting of the term, Brampton council unanimously passed a motion Ms. Jeffrey introduced to reduce the mayor's salary to $165,850. Her predecessor, Ms. Fennell, came under fire last year when media reports revealed she was paid $213,000.
She said she put the motion on the agenda for the first meeting because it was one of the ideas that resonated most with residents during her campaign.
"I was trying to think what single thing could I do early that would give people the confidence that I wasn't fooling around and that I wasn't going to skirt around the corners and that I wasn't serious about changing the culture," she said.