ON government targets transparency in new bill

Ontario is looking at becoming more transparent with its citizens.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has introduced a comprehensive bill which aims to strengthen political accountability, enhance oversight and increase transparency across government and the broader public sector.

This bill comes as response to controversy surrounding expenses at the Pan Am Games, eHealth Ontario and the ORNGE air ambulance service.

This proposed piece of legislation would build onto the existing Open Government initiative, addressing issues of government accountability and transparency.

“Premier Wynne has been in office for a year and she has been trying to make the government more open and transparent and has taken a number of steps over the past year to implement her vision and this is obviously the next step,” said John Milloy, Government House Leader.

“Our party has been in power for almost 11 years and we’ve taken a number of steps to make our government more transparent and this is the logical next move in a number of areas.”

Key features of the proposed legislation include extending the role of the Ontario Ombudsman to include municipalities and the establishment of a Patient Ombudsman to assist patients in resolving complaints against public hospitals.

There will also be a provision for new powers to investigate matters relating to children and youth involved in the child protection system and an amendment to the Lobbyist Registration Act.

However, some believe that this move is too little, too late.

David Eaves, public policy entrepreneur and open government activist, worked as a part of the Open Government Team who made recommendations on behalf of the public as to how Ontario could increase government accountability.

“Our job was to look at all forms of engagement and transparency, so public consultations, access to information and open data, and make recommendations on how the province can become more open,” explained Eaves.

Eaves shared his concerns regarding the Access to Information Act, which has posed a big problem in terms of government transparency.

“Historically a lot of information has been made public via a paper document,” Eaves explained.
“And that is now increasingly being used as a way to offset the data and information to make it harder to read.”

Milloy confirmed that this piece of legislation would be addressing concerns around Access to Information; whether that translates to access to digital files is yet to be seen.

“Actually getting governments to release information in digital forms that are actually readable and usable by people, I think is very important from a transparency and accountability perspective,” added Eaves.

Eaves is hopeful about the proposed legislation, though he did acknowledge its limitations.

“I’m a big believer in incremental change,” Eaves shared. “It’s very hard to achieve something that is going to radically alter all behaviour of all government. But these are definitely steps in the right direction.”

Milloy was not overly concerned about critics of the proposed bill. He was hopeful that members of the opposition would collectively agree on the terms of the proposed legislation. “I think this bill reflects a general call by the public for accountability and I would hope all parties will support it.”

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