Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean has announced she will step down when her term ends in November, to avoid another "acrimonious debate" over her contract.
Ms. Crean has had a controversial seven-year term as ombudsman, including accusations from former mayor Rob Ford of "political" investigations. Her decision to resign, announced in a news conference Monday morning, means city councillors will avert another fight over her future, after a series of fractious debates in council's last session.
"I looked at the nature of divisiveness created by debates on my reappointment, and I realistically, after what happened last summer, decided that this was harming my office, it was harming services to the public, it's harming oversight accountability at the city," Ms. Crean told reporters. Her decision also comes just two weeks after her request at city council to increase her office budget was denied.
Since her appointment in 2008, Ms. Crean has been a polarizing figure at City Hall. Her investigations into wrongdoing have sparked the ire of councillors, notably Mr. Ford. A scathing report on Toronto Community Housing Corp. last year led to the resignation of chief executive officer Eugene Jones – an ally of the former mayor.
When a motion to reappoint Ms. Crean beyond her current term was moved at council in July of last year, it was defeated by a vote of 3-35 – despite persistent lobbying from the left to renew her contract. Instead, council pushed off a decision until after the October election.
Earlier this week, Ms. Crean's budget request for an additional six positions for her office was denied at council. As highlighted in her annual report Monday, her office has conducted 33 complaint investigations over the past five years – an increase of 129 per cent since the office first opened – and has since been given jurisdiction over city agencies as well. Instead, Mayor John Tory moved a compromise that saw her office increased by one position.
"I had hoped, following the recent election, that the political climate surrounding the ombudsman's office would have changed," Ms. Crean said Monday. "When I saw the divisive nature of the debate at budget committee, I made the decision over the past week that I would not seek reappointment."
Councillor Paula Fletcher said that Ms. Crean would have needed 30 votes on council to be granted another term – votes she said the ombudsman would not likely have received.
"It's unfortunate that Mayor Tory doesn't see the value in keeping this particular ombudsman, in the sense of making sure that there's a very clear division between Ford years and Tory years," Ms. Fletcher said.
At a news conference Monday, Mr. Tory said he did the best he could. "I made clear, I think, at the time, that had it not been for that one position that I had moved that I thought I could get approved, the answer would have otherwise been zero," he said.
Councillor Mike Layton suggested that an unwillingness by councillors to renew Ms. Crean's contract was retribution for her investigations. "I think we saw, through some of the recommendations last term, some councillors who were at least involved on the periphery took them personally," he said.
One report by her office in 2012 found that Mr. Ford and his staff had meddled in the recruitment process for city boards. Councillor James Pasternak, who was chair of the civic appointments committee at the time, called Ms. Crean "transformative," but added he thought her report at the time was "a reach."
He said that going forward, council should take a closer look at the accountability offices and their resources.
"We have to protect our democratic institutions and our democratic values. And at times, we are seeing a reach among some of these accountability offices that constrain the ability of democratic officials to work, and that has to be an ongoing conversation."
Ms. Crean, meanwhile, said she's just doing her job. "Any ombudsman worth their salt in doing their job tends not to be popular," she said. "I always say to the team that if someone's mad at you, you're probably doing a good job."