With the Ontario Ombudsman’s appointment expiring in just days, the blame game heats up at Queen’s Park

As the days tick down until the ’s appointment runs out Monday, both opposition parties say they aren’t to blame for the lack of consensus in the process.

The normally secretive all-party committee process to appoint legislative officers, whether the ombudsman or the auditor general or the environmental commissioner, broke into the open this week after members sent the issue back to party house leaders to settle. The appointment process is supposed to reach a consensus decision, but a deadlock arose after the parties couldn’t agree on a candidate.

Michelle Siu / CP files Michelle Siu / CP files Ontario NDP house leader Gilles Bisson, left, and Ontario official opposition house leader Jim Wilson in a 2013 file photo.

“I’m a little bit disappointed that at this point both the Liberals and the Conservatives have spoken as to where things are at,” said NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson on Thursday. He said the New Democrats do support the reappointment of current ombudsman Andre Marin, but they were also open to other candidates. He cited current Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean as one such example. He also accused the governing Liberals of backing a candidate with partisan attachment.

“We do support Marin… he’s proven to be quite an effective ombudsman,” Bisson said. “But we do recognize, as a party, (the appointment) is an all-party process and we would be willing to look at a second choice.”

“But it would seem (the Liberals) are intent on appointing somebody who used to be the head of the Liberal Party of Alberta,” Bisson said, adding that legislative officers by their very nature should come from non-partisan backgrounds.

Tory Steve Clark, who served as house leader until a shadow cabinet shuffle was announced Thursday, said he too was “disappointed” by the lack of consensus. He wouldn’t say whether the process broke down over partisan lines over one candidate or another, but that there were “some tremendous candidates that applied for the job and it’s a consensus process.”

Now, he and everyone else is waiting to see whether Government House Leader Yasir Naqvi will seek to re-up Marin, whose second term was already extended until this coming Monday, or simply allow the position to become vacant. That’s not unusual during the appointment of legislative officers. The deputy ombudsman would fill in temporarily and the office would run as normal until the appointment is eventually made.

Peter J. Thompson / National  PostPeter J. Thompson / National PostThe City of Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean is stepping down this year but is also seeking to be Ontario's next ombudsman.

No one would say who the former Alberta Liberal is, but it seems Crean is not the only experienced ombudsman in the running. Queen’s Park Briefing reports the third finalist is Correctional Investigator for  Howard Sapers, who served as an interim leader of the Alberta party.

“We are pleased with the high calibre of candidates that applied for the position of the Ombudsman of Ontario,” said David Mullock, a spokesperson for Naqvi’s office. “Two of the top candidates came from backgrounds serving in ombudsman roles at the municipal and federal levels. We continue to remain open to working with both opposition parties to come to consensus on a new ombudsman moving forward.”

Over 60 people applied for Marin’s job, including him.

Marin has proven a very visible and effective watchdog, cracking open many big files that have dogged the Ontario government in his ten years in the role. From the G20, to a recent investigation into Hydro One billing and a campaign to expand his office’s oversight to including municipalities, universities and school boards, Marin has left a mark on Ontario.

RelatedOntario Ombudsman’s term up in four days, and no one’s saying if he’s been reappointed

He’s also proved at times divisive, with a bombastic social media presence and pugnacious pursuit of his investigations, which has prompted municipal officials and bureaucrats alike to question his style.

Whether Marin gets to continue that pursuit will likely be decided in the coming days, but if someone new is to follow him, the province could be waiting much longer to see the final appointment made.

“All three parties’ house leaders will continue to discuss all options for moving the hiring process for the Ombudsman of Ontario forward,” Mullock said.

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