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Home  »  News  »  Blocking the Sunshine
Blocking the Sunshine
Ottawa Citizen - 11/2/2012

Ottawa Citizen Editorial Board, Ottawa Citizen, November 1, 2012

Link to story.

It’s unbelievable, in 21st century Canada, that an ombudsman feels the need to say that transparency “should not depend on the whims of local government.”

Yet André Marin did say that, an a damning report on Ontario’s so-called Sunshine Law, which established a public complaints system to reinforce the requirement that municipal meetings be open except in certain narrowly defined situations. His office is the investigator for 191 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities (the rest use other investigators). The ombudsman says that even among municipal officials, awareness of the law seems uneven. So does compliance.

“Some councils are models of transparency. Others are shockingly secretive and even defiant in the face of public complaints.”

The public complaints have to do with councils illegally closing meetings, he says, holding votes in secret, or meeting informally in restaurants. In the township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, “they went to a closed meeting to give themselves a 60-per-cent pay raise,” says Marin. “It’s the kind of thing you just can’t make up.”

Closed meetings and secret votes don’t happen without the complicity of several people and a culture of secrecy. This isn’t just about whether or not municipalities all follow the same rules. It’s about whether they remember, every day, that they work for the people.

Marin points out that there are no penalties in the Sunshine Law, which perhaps explains why it’s still being ignored in some municipalities. Inconsistent compliance with the law is certainly a serious matter. By treating it as if it were optional, Ontario is not recognizing the importance of transparency. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea to legislate some penalties for clear violations of the rules.

Citizens do already have access to a strong accountability mechanism: elections. Marin’s office has done the valuable work of exposing secretiveness and arrogance in some municipal councils. Ontario voters should remember it Oct. 27, 2014, when they next go to the municipal polls.

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