2012 Hero: Fiona Crean
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2012 Hero: Fiona Crean

Nominated for: grace under fire.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

People often compare the political arena to a boxing ring, describe those who run our governments as fighters, sparring round after round. If that’s the analogy—and it certainly seems to apply in Rob Ford’s City Hall—then Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean can take a hell of a punch.

Crean is not a politician but an independent official. She is one of Toronto’s accountability officers, who collectively serve as the municipal government’s conscience: their mandate is to ensure that policies are fair, made transparently, implemented equitably, and financed properly. Crean’s role is to investigate complaints made by residents “as they relate to administrative fairness.” If you think the TTC failed to consult your community about infrastructure changes or that you’ve been unreasonably denied a daycare subsidy, and nobody at the TTC or in daycare services will address your concerns, Crean is who you turn to.

This year among her investigations Crean looked into complaints about the public appointments process. Her findings were scathing: she concluded that the mayor’s office interfered with the administration of established protocols regarding due process, influence, and diversity, and further, that given the environment surrounding the process it would have been “futile” for City staff to raise their concerns about that interference. After she issued her report, councillors asked Crean to present her findings in person at their council meeting.

Crean, if you’ve never met her, is a small, silver-haired woman with a firm voice, not showy in any way. She is the City Hall equivalent of your badass great aunt, the one who can wilt a punky 12-year-old with a withering glance and a patient recitation of facts.

For reporting on the problems she had discovered Crean was personally condemned by several members of Ford’s administration at that meeting, who said she was politicizing her job and who questioned her motivation and competence on the floor of council. To return to the boxing analogy: it was more or less like hitting the ref when you don’t like one of their calls. It was an attack on an accountability officer launched by politicians who found her investigation politically inconvenient, and which those attackers themselves knew was baseless.

Evidence: at the end of that very ugly debate, council endorsed her report’s findings unanimously.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Crean was characteristically calm. She stuck to the scope of her report and refused to comment on politicians’ actions, saying only that some council debates were more emotional than others.

Fiona Crean was exactly what we need our accountability officers to be: thorough, careful, and impartial. She neither overreached nor downplayed the significance of what she had found. And she persisted in the face of ugly, disingenuous rants that called her integrity into question.

The findings in Crean’s report showed politicians how they can make some procedural, administrative improvements. Her conduct in presenting them showed them how they could choose to act in general, if they wanted to act much better.

See the other nominees who are Standing Their Ground:

The Globe and Mail‘s Paywall

Reminding us that journalism costs money to make.
  Daniel Dale

Staying professional, even when the mayor couldn’t.
  Alice Moran

Speaking up when she didn’t need to.

  Captain John

Keeping the waterfront interesting, and keeping his dream alive.

Cast Your Ballot