Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Toronto City Hall oversight is more important than ever — so why is John Tory cutting it?

By: Metro Published on Mon Mar 09 2015

A simple rule I’ve learned from watching Toronto City Hall: You can never have too much oversight. Toronto’s accountability officers — the auditor general, the ombudsman, the integrity commissioner and the lobbyist registrar — proved their value in spades over the past four years.

They uncovered conflicts of interest, improper fundraising, sketchy lobbying, gross mistreatment of residents, spending abuses and all kinds of other nasty things that would have otherwise flown under the radar during the ridiculous Rob Ford years.

This is why it’s so weird that Mayor John Tory’s first budget, set to be approved by Toronto city council this week, denies two of these accountability offices the money they need to do their jobs effectively.

Government accountability is a weird place to look to save money.

Here’s the scoop: The budget was amended at committee after a motion by Coun. Michelle Berardinetti to remove recommended additional staff positions from the office of the ombudsman, who investigates resident complaints, and the office of the integrity commissioner, who exists to try to keep councillors from doing shady things without consequence.

All told, the ombudsman’s office saw six positions axed from their budget request, while the integrity commissioner lost two.

In the context of the city’s $10-billion operating budget, the moves amount to small change — the eight positions combined are worth about $738,500 per year. But small change or not, this could have serious impacts. The reason both offices need more staff is because they’ve been inundated with requests and complaints over the last year.

Presentations attached to the budget show citizen and staff inquiries to the integrity commissioner effectively doubling between 2011 and 2014, while complaints to the city’s ombudsman reached an all-time high last year. In both cases, the volume of work has grown faster than their budgets.

At the same time, councillors have endorsed expanding the reach of both offices. In July of 2013, councillors voted to make the integrity commissioner a full-time position, as opposed to the part-time gig it had been previously. And last May council voted to give the ombudsman formal oversight of all city-controlled corporations.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think it makes sense to vote in favour of expanding the mandate of an office and then vote against giving them the resources needed to achieve that mandate. Some could argue, I guess, that city hall has turned a corner after the Ford years, and less oversight is needed. It’s a nice thought, but I’d counter with this: Prove it.

Until then, Tory and council are in no position to deny these resources. City hall just went through four years where the city’s accountability offices were often the only line of defence against a chaotic political administration — it’s far too soon to forget that.

This post was originally published at on 2015-03-09T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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