Ontario municipal scandals show need for more oversight

Today I have some stories about Ontario municipal shenanigans, and Quebec’s efforts to bring corruption under control.

In Ontario, the Toronto Star reported a kickback scheme involving federal stimulus funds. The deal, it was reported, involved a contractor forcing subcontractors to pay to get work. This has cost the town of Gravenhust’s top bureaucrat her job. The contractor of course argues that it’s all a fabrication and is suing the Star.

In Toronto, a city official who was handling the privatization of garbage collection has jumped over to the private sector – in fact, to one of the top companies being considered for the contract. This should be illegal – in the federal government, there are prohibitions against doing just this kind of thing. They’re routinely ignored, but that’s another story.

That’s just the recent news. Some may recall the City of Vaughan problems a few years back, also involving alleged corruption, and the Cornwall police whistleblower Perry Dunlop, reporting the abuse of children. Both were put through the grinder and given no protection against reprisals.

These stories show the need for greater oversight of the way cities in Ontario run, and for a safe whistleblowing mechanism. It’s a lesson that Quebec has been learning the hard way. There, Premier Jean Charest has tabled a bill which creates an anti-corruption commissioner and would apply to the entire public sector – from school boards to the provincial government. It’s not something he has done freely, mind you: it was the product of a wave of corruption revelations.

Ontarians need shake the smug feeling that their government is better than Quebec’s. Expanding the role of the Ombudsman and the mandate of the Integrity Commissioner to include all public servants in the province are both overdue.

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Star probe: Toronto builder siphoned $1.8M from Gravenhurst project
The Star (Toronto), April 21, 2011
Summary: A Toronto builder siphoned almost $1.8 million of taxpayers’ money from a municipal project in cottage country by taking advantage of weak controls in the Conservative government’s economic stimulus program, a Star investigation has found.

Top Gravenhurst official fired amid kickback allegations
The Star (Toronto), April 26, 2011
Summary: Gravenhurst’s top official has been fired in the wake of allegations the town was hoodwinked by Toronto builders on a taxpayer-funded project.

Bureaucrat who led garbage privatization efforts to take job at waste company
The Globe and Mail, May 6, 2011
Summary: The city bureaucrat who has led efforts to privatize garbage collection is stepping down from his post. Geoff Rathbone, General Manager of Solid Waste Management Services, is heading for a job at Progressive Waste Solutions (formerly BFI), one of the country’s largest waste management firms. He’ll leave at the end of the month.

Anti-corruption unit begins probe at Montreal city hall
The Gazette (Montreal), May 12, 2011
Summary: Investigators working for Quebec’s Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit have finally shown up at city hall. The move comes nearly a month after PACU received a highly publicized mandate to probe allegations that Montreal’s auditor-general and its council speaker were victims of an “espionage” campaign run out of the city’s comptroller’s office.

New provincial office would examine complaints
The Gazette (Montreal), May 6, 2011
Summary The Quebec government is moving ahead with legislation that would make it one of a handful of provinces to protect whistleblowers. With the province’s new Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit investigating Montreal and other municipalities, the government of Liberal Premier Jean Charest tabled a bill Wednesday that would create the position of anti-corruption commissioner to receive and examine complaints of wrongdoing in the public service. Bill 15 – dubbed the Law Concerning the Fight Against Corruption – would cover the entire public sector, including the provincial government and its agencies, municipalities, universities, CEGEPs and school boards, subsidized private schools and daycares and health-care institutions.