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Toronto’s Ombudsman Attacked for Being “Politically Driven”

Tussle breaks out at city council over the integrity of one of Toronto's key accountability officers.

Toronto’s ombudsman, Fiona Crean, was scheduled to discuss her latest report with councillors today, in which she found that the mayor and his office compromised the public-appointments process in several ways. But as councillors were discussing the exact timing of that presentation, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) rose to ask whether that report should even be discussed by council since it seemed to him that it was “politically driven.”

The ombudsman’s mandate, according to the City, is to address “concerns about the service you receive from the City of Toronto, and investigate complaints of administrative unfairness. The Office is independent from the city, impartial, and its services are both confidential and free of charge.” Any suggestion that the ombudsman’s work is compromised by political motivations, therefore, goes directly to the question of her integrity.

Fiona Crean was appointed in 2008 after a national search. The selection panel consisted of then-mayor David Miller, four councillors (Frank Di Giorgio, Shelley Carroll, Adam Vaughan, and Gloria Lindsay Luby), and Montreal’s ombudsman at the time, with the assistance of executive-search firm Kinley & Connelly. The selection panel’s decision was unanimous [PDF].

Several councillors rose immediately after Mammoliti challenged Crean’s report, calling on him to apologize. Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) read from the councillors’ code of conduct [PDF], which states that “All members of council have a duty to treat members of the public, one another, and staff appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation, and to ensure that their work environment is free from discrimination and harrassment.” Ford-friendly councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) runs council meetings, and she repeatedly asked Mammoliti to apologize. He refused, and wound up leaving the floor of council in disgust.

He re-emerged upstairs in short order, in the press gallery, where the exchange with Perks shown in the video above took place. Shortly after, Perks returned to add this:

For the last year and a half there has been a constant and unyielding attack on the professional public service in this city. People like Gary Webster who have dedicated their adult lives to making Toronto a better place to live in have been driven out of their jobs. That pattern is continuing now as some councillors attempt to bully members of the public service for bringing their reports forward to us. We can’t stand for it. Torontonians have to make it clear to everyone that’s elected that we need to protect our professional public servants if we’re going to have the excellent services that make Toronto work.

Council will discuss other matters this afternoon. Crean will present her report on the public appointments process tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

UPDATE 2:33 PM: Council resumed meeting a few minutes ago after a break for lunch. Giorgio Mammoliti, back in the council chamber, clarified his earlier remarks to say that he meant not that the Ombudsman herself was biased, but that the people she interviewed in the course of her investigation were. Gord Perks apologized for his behaviour.

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