STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
COMITÉ PERMANENT DE L'ASSEMBLÉE LÉGISLATIVE
Thursday 16 December 2004 Jeudi 16 décembre 2004
The committee met at 1605 in committee room 1.
ELECTION OF CHAIR
The Clerk of the Committee (Mr Doug Arnott): Honourable members, it is my duty to call upon you to elect a Chair of the committee. Are there any nominations, please?
Mrs Donna H. Cansfield (Etobicoke Centre): I'd like to nominate Mr Delaney for Chair of the committee.
The Clerk of the Committee: Are there any other nominations?
Mr Ernie Hardeman (Oxford): I'd like to nominate Norm Miller.
The Clerk of the Committee: Are there any further nominations?
I'll now put the question on the first nomination. All those in favour of Mr Delaney as Chair of the committee?
A majority of votes being in favour of Mr Delaney, I declare Mr Delaney duly elected Chair of the committee.
The Chair (Mr Bob Delaney): Humbled as I am by the awesome responsibility conferred by the office, I now call the meeting to order.
The second item of business is a debriefing of the Ontario Ombudsman, Mr Clare Lewis. Mr Lewis, welcome.
Mr Clare Lewis: Thank you, Mr Chair and members. I must say that I have a son who is a policy manager in the Democratic Renewal Secretariat of the Ministry of the Attorney General. I'll have to tell him, having watched your recent election, that I saw little sign of alternative or proportional representation in the election.
I also have to tell you that I had evidence today that when you're gone, you're gone. I came back into the building and was, of course, stopped by security. I told him I was the Ombudsman and I was to meet with you, and he looked at me. "What's your name?" I told him. "Do you work for the government?" "Sort of, yeah." Anyway, I finally realized that he was aware there was a new Ombudsman and I didn't have the right name. But I talked my way in.
I'm very grateful for your allowing me to come before you today. I know it's the end of the session and everybody wants to go, so I'll try to be brief. It's not easy for me but I will try.
May I say that today there was a very generous statement made about me in the House by Mrs Jeffrey, and I appreciate that. I intended to be present when Mr Marin was introduced to the Legislature yesterday. I was five minutes late, but there it is, and I'm sorry about that.
I also want to say to you that Mr Marin will be the sixth Ombudsman of Ontario; I'm the fifth. The four prior Ombudsmen were all appointed through a non-competitive, open process. They were all appointed -- properly, of course -- by the government coming up with one or more candidates, going around to the various parties and getting consensus, and then an appointment occurred.
In the last government, it was determined that a full, open, competitive process would take place. Despite my age, I decided, uncomfortable as it was, to get into an open, competitive process that I could lose. I presume to say that it worked very well, I hope. I am confident in saying that the process was similarly followed with a smaller committee from this committee rather than the whole, which I appeared before five years ago.
When I was appointed there were some 85 candidates short-listed. I understand that a great many more applied this time. I presume to say that that's because people felt some confidence in the office and wanted to be in the position of leading it. I'm not sure how many or who were in fact interviewed, but I have been told that there were some very credible candidates, and that encourages me.
I just wanted to say that although I've known him since he was, as I like to say, a pup -- I think he's only 39 now -- the appointment of Mr Marin was a very fine appointment. I believe very much in this office that I hold. I came in with a specific view of what I wanted to achieve. I think, with my staff, we've been able to achieve it in building relationships with the public service, the Legislature, the government, the public and also -- the only way that that could happen -- rebuilding relationships within the office so that it is a well-functioning organization, one that I personally am proud to hand over.
But the time has come for me to go. I've had a lot of jobs, and I have stayed at none of them for very long times, including the bench. I think that it will be taken to a new level, one that I'm sure will be very positive. What I'm very happy about is that I will leave my last professional career without fear of looking over my shoulder at what's happening to the organization -- is it being run well? I'm confident that it will be and that he will be a fine officer of this Legislature. I am really pleased that you made the appointment you made. I think it was a very good one.
I wanted to say to you that, over the five years, we have, I think, strengthened relations with government to a considerable degree, and with the Legislature and the public service to the degree that I only appeared once before this committee.
Mr Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay): That's a record.
Mr Lewis: Yes, yes. Either I'm afraid of you or I didn't have the need. The reason was that we were able to do an awful lot through informal resolution, to show what we had and persuade the ministries to correct, or give redress, on some occasions, and there was no need -- the one case I came before you to argue was to do with Cancer Care Ontario and the operation of that program in connection with the northern health travel grant. My view was that it was operating adversely, to the advantage of the south but not the north. I lost; the government used its majority, and that's fine, but about a month or so later the northern health travel was enhanced, and that was fine. Not having to resort to the committee, I hope, has been a sign of good but independent relations with the various parties.
My staff held what was supposed to be a Christmas-seasonal party the other day. I walked in with my silly Christmas hat on to find that it was set up very formally and that it was, in fact, a staff tribute. To my surprise, they had my wife and oldest grandson there. My wife spoke to the staff at their request and said to them that they had enriched me and that they had given me the possibilities to achieve things that I had never dreamed I would be able to do. I think that's true.
You may know -- it was mentioned by Ms Jeffrey this morning, and I was very grateful for her comments; I spoke about that before you came in, Ms Jeffrey -- that I was elected as president of the International Ombudsman Institute, which has 170 members in some 76 countries around the world. I had the opportunity to preside over their world conference in Quebec City this fall. We had representatives from 70-odd countries, 340 of them. The conference was opened by the Governor General. It was a stunning event. I know ombudsmen now throughout the world, and I want you to know that your Ontario Ombudsman's office is considered, and has been for some time, a leader in the ombudsman movement internationally. It's well known, and it has had the opportunity to prove its mettle. It's set standards that are followed by many offices.
Internationally, countries in transition to democracy, such as former Soviet republics, countries in Asia and so on, are frequently turning to the classical ombudsman construct as a means of supporting democracy. We hardly have to go that far. We have a well-entrenched democracy, with independent and competent courts, excellent Legislatures, human rights commissions and Ombudsmen. We have a number of institutions which support the concept of democracy, but a lot of countries don't, and they go to the ombudsman as a means of assisting. I've seen evidence of how that's working. We've been called upon, in the Ontario office, to contribute to that on a number of occasions. I take pride in it, but it couldn't have happened without our staff.
So I think you have some idea of the kind of work we did during my term. I have reported annually through the Speaker.
This was mentioned this morning: I decided that -- let me put it another way. I was asked recently why Prince Edward Island is the only province not to have an ombudsman. We have no national ombudsman, but that's another story. But why not Prince Edward Island? I said, well, it's only got a very few hundred thousand people. Most of them know each other, and they can pick up the phone and say, "I've got a problem, George. What are you going to do about it?" That's not true in a 12-million-person province, nor in any of the others.
We have a lot of people, however, people like us; if we have troubles, we often have connections that we can use very quickly to get corrections, to get redress without going through formal processes, but an awful lot of people do not, particularly vulnerable populations. In that respect, I think we play a very important role, so issues of disability, of children, of prisoners -- yes, because once incarcerated, they too are vulnerable -- have been the focus of much of my work, not to the exclusion of people well-placed who need redress. We've done it, and done it quite well, and I've reported on it.
I am truly grateful and privileged to have been chosen by the Legislature five years ago to have this position. I consider it to have been a pinnacle of a pretty diverse career. I left the bench 19 years ago. I could have stayed for three more years and had a full judge's pension two years ago. I want to tell you, that's a good dollar today, and more than I will have in total. It was, nonetheless, worth it all because -- and I in no way denigrate the bench. But what I have had the opportunity to do is work on the fringes of government to deal with public policy issues over a host of jobs, and I love it. I think it's great. I think it's wonderful.
So I am here to tell you -- although I am quite prepared to take any criticisms you may want to offer me and any suggestions for transition to the new Ombudsman -- that I am privileged and honoured. Thank you for having allowed me this way of concluding my career.
I would be delighted to receive any questions. I wanted to come before you because you're the committee that got me here, and even if I only came once, I wanted to talk to you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I have a list of people who've asked to address Mr Lewis. Mrs Jeffrey had a comment.
Mrs Linda Jeffrey (Brampton Centre): Mr Lewis, it is, I think, our privilege to talk to you today. I just want to say, I'm pleased that you're here. I have a lot of respect for the job that you do and the character that you bring to the job, so thank you very much. As the former Chair, I enjoyed listening to your observations, and I think those constructive criticisms that you give government to make them do a better job -- you help us do a better job, so thank you very much.
I had a question. The last time you come and spoke to us you talked about how you squeezed your budget to find some advertising dollars and how you ran an initiative to provide accessibility to people in Ontario. How do you think that went? Was it a success? Could you have done it differently? Was it something that you're pleased with? Should it be an ongoing program?
Mr Lewis: Thank you for asking me that. Yes, it was a success, and the emphasis is on "was." Budget is again an issue. As you're aware, government is in straitened circumstances. When you are flatlined, as we were in our last budget -- and we're about to do our budget presentation -- you have make sacrifices to meet that.
We have a union. We entered into our collective agreement in January of this year. We thought we were following the guidelines of the Legislative Assembly. Then the figures came out from the government as to the size of the deficit and so on. The long and short of it: We were flatlined. We have salaries to pay and they're higher, and our operating costs had not gone up. I was determined not to lay anybody off during my term. I had a year to do it and I succeeded.
We are now faced with the second year of the collective agreement and going for the budget again. What I can tell you is that the community education program -- and it wasn't just advertising; it was a very active program of my staff out in the community doing some super things, even programs on how to complain effectively. We were doing this to the vulnerable communities. I wouldn't call the Rotary Club this, but generally my manager of outreach placed me in front of groups that represented vulnerable clients so we could, through them, have access to their clients. For instance, one wonderful opportunity I had was to the Ontario Association of Social Workers this year. It was an amazing opportunity to inform them that we could perhaps be available to their people. I'm not the advocate -- they are -- but I have a service that has to be known.
I can tell you that our complaint base over that period increased by a little over 1,000. What was interesting to me was not the number so much as the fact that the complaints we got, the increase, were a higher proportion of jurisdictional complaints. In other words, people knew what we could and couldn't do before they came to us, and that's more than they did before.
I must tell you that I've had to cut that program back, and it may get further cuts. You have a core service and you have to try to protect the core service. But I believe that to be effective, an Ombudsman office has to be known. By the way, I see the Ombudsman office as very much complementary to the work that you do -- not the work in the House, but your constituency work. We're able to do it in addition to what you can do because we have powers: of entry, of search -- lots of powers that I've almost never used. I have a power to summons people and question them under oath. I haven't done it. I haven't had to do it, but I was prepared to do it. That's something that I think we are, in effect, partnered in. I see the legislators and the Ombudsman as having a real role in assisting constituents with their problems. I guess that's why they created the office here 30 years ago. It was done by your predecessors.
I'm sorry; that's a long answer.
Mr Norm Miller (Parry Sound-Muskoka): I'd first of all like to thank you for your years of service as Ombudsman. Having been involved in the interviewing process, I can say that the job you've done as Ombudsman is highly respected. I gather that you improved things dramatically in your time there. Thank you for that.
Just a couple of questions: In terms of the budget, to maintain the level of service you're at currently, what sort of budget increase, if there were no other restrictions, do you think would be reasonable?
Mr Lewis: I hope I'm not going to stamp on the privileges of the Board of Internal Economy. I'm at $9,024,000 right now, and I have been for two years. We would probably need another 4%, and it's not operating costs. We have maintained our operating costs -- I hope; we are renegotiating our lease, but we think so.
Mr Miller: That's mainly to address the salaries and the collective agreement.
Mr Lewis: It's the salaries, yes. I can tell you exactly what it is. It's the collective bargaining obligation and a 2% raise for excluded staff, if we're able to do that. That's what we would propose to do. The bargaining unit would get more under the collective agreement. I'm just sorry that we did our bargaining before Mr Sorbara spoke. I would have preferred to do it after.
Mr Miller: Also, in terms of the transition to the new Ombudsman, Mr Marin, you've retired --
Mr Lewis: No, not yet. I have five weeks left. I can do a lot of damage. I leave on January 29.
Mr Miller: January 29, OK, and then he starts April 1.
Mr Lewis: That's right. There'll be a request for the appointment of a temporary Ombudsman. That's in the act. I believe once the House rises, that can be done by the government for up to six months. That's what will happen.
It's not necessary, but it might well be an internal person. If asked, I will recommend somebody, or one or two people.
Mr Miller: I understand you've already introduced the new Ombudsman to some of the staff.
Mr Lewis: Yes, it was great. I have to tell you about that. It was a wonderful moment. I was late getting here. I misunderstood the time, and I missed the event. I'm sorry about that; I wanted to be there in support. I tracked him down in the office of human resources in the Whitney Block, and I said, "What's your schedule?" This was at a quarter to 3, and I'd already called for a staff meeting at 3 o'clock in the boardroom at our office. I said, "If you can come with me for 20 minutes, would you like to meet your new staff?" "Sure."
So up we went, and it was wonderful. I must tell you, their reception of him was quite positive. They were thrilled. I think somehow the word had actually got there before I did, which was pretty good; they were excited. I asked him to speak, of course, and he did. Then I said to him, "By the way, we have a lot of francophone and bilingual staff. Would you mind proving to them that you can do it?" And of course he can, and he did. That pleased them.
I know this happens: Every time an Ombudsman's term ends, they've been very worried about who will be there. I think that the worry was removed yesterday.
Mr Miller: That's great. Once again, thank you for your years of service. From all accounts, you've done an excellent job. We certainly appreciate it.
Mr Lewis: Thank you, Mr Miller. I appreciate it.
Mrs Cansfield: I'd like to echo the same comments, Clare. I think you've done an absolutely superb job. When I read the report, one of the things that was abundantly clear is that there were places where we could have some significant savings in terms of how we dealt with a lot of folks, especially in the family resources area.
My question to you is, if in fact the recommendations that you made were adhered to, let's say even a portion of them, that should result in fewer requests of your office, because there were so many of the same kind. Doing that should help you in terms of your budget requirements, because you won't need as many, one might suspect.
It's the follow-through process that I'm really interested in. You identify, as an Ombudsman, or your office does, those areas of concern. You give them to the government; the government then implements or does not implement. What happens? Do you go back and do another analysis of that or does it become a part of the public accounts kind of stuff?
Mr Lewis: To your first comment, in a perfect world it should reduce my complaints, but it just doesn't work that way. There are two kinds of recommendations that I tend to make. There are the individual recommendations arising out of a specific complaint, and sometimes when a correction is made there, it does have a broader impact because the Family Responsibility Office says, "Oh, yes, we'd better straighten that one out," and they do.
I also do a lot of systemic investigations, and that's when there is an apparent system-wide problem. When those are solved, sometimes they save money, but sometimes they cost money because people haven't been getting the service they need and should have been getting.
But I can say, on the whole -- do I go back? Yes. Some deputy minister is getting awfully tired of hearing from me. The best example of that is the Family Responsibility Office. Ms Pupatello now is in charge, and that's probably a good thing, because she sure had a lot to say about it in opposition and criticized me for not getting all the answers, and that was fine. Now it's her job.
Mr Mario Sergio (York West): She's still after you; right?
Mr Lewis: Oh, yes.
I thought I had won a big one back in my second report. The Deputy Attorney General of the day, because that's where FRO used to be, agreed with me to go forward to Management Board seeking a request for the monies to find a computer base. That's one of the big problems at FRO. They don't have a system that works well. I thought, "Terrific." A reporter said to me, "That's great, Lewis. But it's going to take at least two years; right?" I thought, "Well, it won't happen tomorrow."
I've got to tell you, we're still waiting. I think we're very close now. That's been one of my disappointments, but it's taken a long time. A lot of people, often mothers with children, don't get the money they need. If they don't have family supports, then it comes on to social assistance. But there's a lot of grief when that happens. Nobody is out to hurt them, but it's a reality that if they don't -- but anyway, I've been on FRO time and time again. We actually get along very well because I know what the problems are, and it's not the intent; it's the functions. They're getting better. I think in the near future we should have a process that's pretty good.
Mrs Cansfield: My other question is, like most -- not like most; I shouldn't say that. There can be a tendency sometimes, when an organization exists, to grow exponentially, because it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Mr Lewis: Empire building.
Mrs Cansfield: Empire building. I didn't want to use those words, because I don't think that's ever been your intent. Having said that, I think that also what you can leave is probably some good advice around what is an optimum size and to what extent should the Ombudsman's capacity to exist exist. It's easy to ask for money when there isn't any; even if there is some, you have to justify it. But what's big enough? What's a good size to work with that you can get good service out of?
Mr Lewis: I thought I was at that optimum, and I've said so. But I've also said that back in the mid-1990s -- I told the Board of Internal Economy this when I went back pleading after we'd been flatlined; unsuccessfully, I might say. In the mid-1990s, the office at that time had about 134 staff. They had about nine people in their legal department; it may have included students. I know that I said to the board, "I don't know what they were doing. They must have been writing memos to each other."
I'm a lawyer. I've been a lawyer for 40 years. I've got two and one half lawyers and I work them hard and I get terrific results. I don't need a legal department of nine. So my staff size now is, I think, 85. I think I have a complement of 87, but it hasn't grown in my term, that I can recall. I've shifted things around and I have no doubt that that'll happen again. It's just inevitable. There are some areas where I think some shifts probably should be made.
I am familiar with the empire-building instinct and so on. I haven't tried to do it here. I will say to you that the Ontario Ombudsman's office is certainly the best-funded in Canada. We are the largest province. We're one of the better-funded ones in the world. The European Ombudsman is pretty big stuff, but that's for the European Union. And the South African one is pretty big. But we are generally well-funded.
The issue is one of accountability and value. We were getting our work done well. Would I like to do it better? Sure, but that sometimes requires different people and you can't just turn an organization around. A lot of people -- not a lot of people, but a few people left when I came in who probably didn't like the cut of my jib. But I think you've got an office today -- unless government decides to do something like merge it with something else or give it other responsibilities -- for instance, I'll give you an example. The Information and Privacy Commissioner has just been given jurisdiction over hospitals, I think. What do you now call the Provincial Auditor?
Mr Sergio: Auditor General.
Mr Lewis: Auditor General, yes. He picked up more jurisdiction, and I would hope he and Ann Cavoukian will get some budget to support the extra work. There's a modernization process going on now in government. It's always going on; I've seen them before, and they're necessary. You have to retool and whatever. If it were determined that it would be more efficient or beneficial to add to the Ombudsman's office, there are things that can be added.
I know jurisdictions where you have any number of different things. You have municipalities. I don't have municipalities. You have the health system, the hospitals. I don't have them, and my wife would be some annoyed if I did, being the vice-president of a hospital.
The Chair: Is there another point that you wanted to add? OK. Mr McMeekin, you had a question.
Mr Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot): Sorry, were you finished?
Mr Lewis: Yes, I am.
Mr McMeekin: I just have a couple of comments I want to make, which I think have been made in some way already.
I just wanted to join the others in thanking you for your years of public service. Growing up, my mum used to say that public service isn't an option; it's an obligation. With the little I know about you, I think before serving in this esteemed office and through it, you've certainly come with that sort of approach. We value that here.
I know from being an observer of this place that when you were appointed five years and a bit ago, not everything was well with the Ombudsman's office. I think the most important relationship we as elected people have on a good day with the people of Ontario is the trust relationship. Sometimes, even in a democracy as wonderful as ours, it breaks down. We need to have mechanisms in place and people in place in charge of those mechanisms who can be the buffer, can do the case-to-cause advocacy which you were talking about and can, in many instances, particularly with people on the fringes, people who feel like they're at the end of their rope, that there's nowhere else to turn -- I know that on a couple of occasions we've referred constituents to your office because we felt frustrated that there was nowhere else to turn. So it's something that I know is a work of love on your part. It would have to be, just to take all the -- I'm looking for the right word here --
Mr McMeekin: Flak -- I was going to say "abuse," but flak that comes with it.
I'm buoyed by your enthusiasm for the new Ombudsman. I share your view that the new Ombudsman will stand tall. I think he'll stand tall largely because he'll be standing on your shoulders. We want to say thanks to you and well done. It's almost Biblical, "Well done, our good and faithful servant," but I don't want it to be too corny.
You've had some tough ones -- Cancer Care Ontario -- and then the issue I have a particular interest in, and that's autism. It's a huge issue. It beguiles me that not just the previous government but even our government seems to be having trouble getting a handle on it. We seem to know that the kids, who, for whatever reason or a combination of reasons, don't get the help they need, are going to have some real difficulties later in life. We need to find a way to deal with it outside of the courts, I want to say with respect.
I think you've helped us struggle with that, and I appreciate that. I read your report. I appreciate the observations you make and the advice you give.
Just on my own behalf, and on behalf of a government that I'm privileged to be a member of, I want to thank you for your years of service. They've been good years. You've served us well. You have the office in good shape. We're going to build on that foundation that you've left us. Together, this place, working with your successors and the wonderful staff you have, we are going to continue to make a difference with this problem. So thank you, sir, from all of us.
Mr Lewis: Thank you. I appreciate it.
The Chair: Are there any further comments?
Mr Lewis, earlier you said that one of the satisfying things you found about the office -- to use your own words -- was being able to do "things that I never dreamed I would be able to do." I think that sums up all of our feelings in every party here, to be able to come here and play a small role and to realize that the Ontario we pass along was made possible by being able to do things that none of us ever dreamed about being able to do.
You mentioned Ontario's leadership in the role of the Ombudsman. I'd like to point out, on behalf of the committee, that it's due in no small part to the contribution of Clare Lewis. As Ontarians, we're so used to the checks and balances that facilitate the fairness we find in our Ontario society that we often take for granted these very checks and balances and the people who make them possible. We sometimes forget that the skill and tact, the diplomacy, the patience, the experience and indeed the maturity that's necessary to be an effective Ombudsman are things we have to find in a single individual. For the past number of years, we've had that individual in you, and you've demonstrated all of those qualities marvellously.
You mentioned earlier that you could have taken a full judge's pension. I'd just like to point out that in this room any pension sounds like a good one.
Mr Lewis: Yes, I'm sure.
The Chair: On behalf of all of us who are privileged to serve in the Ontario Legislature, be it as elected members or as staff, I want to thank you very much for the service you've rendered to your province and especially to the people you've served so ably. I wish to you and your family a merry Christmas, a happy New Year and a warm and rewarding retirement.
Mr Lewis: Thank you.
Mrs Cansfield: You're not going to retire.
Mr Lewis: My wife thinks I'm just going to change jobs, but we'll see.
I just want you to know that I have the greatest regard for the work you do. I only went to law school because I intended to run for politics. I got captured by the law. I keep getting captured by other things. But I've always had a high regard and I continue to. So thank you. Your very words matter to me.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
We have one last item of business on the agenda, and that is the meeting of the subcommittee to deal with our procedures on Bill 132. As our member from the NDP is not here, I have an undertaking by the clerk to contact members with regard to a subcommittee via conference call.
Mrs Cansfield: I move adjournment.
The Chair: Adjournment having been moved, all in favour? Opposed? Carried. This meeting is adjourned.
The committee adjourned at 1651.
Thursday 16 December 2004
Election of Chair M-115
Ombudsman Ontario M-115
Mr Clare Lewis, Ombudsman of Ontario
STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
Chair / Présidente
Mr Bob Delaney (Mississauga West / Mississauga-Ouest L)
Vice-Chair / Vice-Président
Mr Mario G. Racco (Thornhill L)
Mrs Donna H. Cansfield (Etobicoke Centre / Etobicoke-Centre L)
Mr Bob Delaney (Mississauga West / Mississauga-Ouest L)
Mr Ernie Hardeman (Oxford PC)
Mr Rosario Marchese (Trinity-Spadina ND)
Mr Ted McMeekin (Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot L)
Mr Norm Miller (Parry Sound-Muskoka PC)
Mr Tim Peterson (Mississauga South / Mississauga-Sud L)
Mr Mario G. Racco (Thornhill L)
Mr Mario Sergio (York West / York-Ouest L)
Substitutions / Membres remplaçants
Mrs Linda Jeffrey (Brampton Centre / Brampton-Centre L)
Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes
Mr Gilles Bisson (Timmins-James Bay / Timmins-Baie James ND)
Clerk / Greffier
Mr Douglas Arnott
Staff / Personnel
Mr Philip Kaye, legislative researcher,
Research and Information Services
Mr. Peter Sibenik, procedural clerk, research, Journals and Procedural Research