Ombudsman releases new tools to promote municipal transparency

Ombudsman releases new tools to promote municipal transparency

January 25, 2019

25 January, 2019

Open meeting guide and digital case digest reflect decade of reports

(TORONTO – January 25, 2019) Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today released two new reference tools for municipal officials and the public, to help ensure that the province’s open meeting laws are consistently applied.

For the first time, the hundreds of decisions by the Ombudsman’s office in its investigations of closed municipal meetings (dating back to 2008) can be searched by topic, municipality and specific points of law, via the office’s new digital case digest: See Open Meetings: Case Digest.

“Our general guideline for open meetings has always been ‘when in doubt, open the meeting,’” Mr. Dubé said. “Now we can also say, ‘when in doubt, look it up in our digest.’”

The digest is the first resource of its kind in Canada. “We are confident that this will be a valuable resource for all municipal stakeholders, where they can look up the applicable laws and the definitions we use, and see how they have been applied,” the Ombudsman said. “Our aim is to promote conformity with the law and enhance transparency by helping decision-makers to be more informed about the law.”

Its release coincides with that of the latest edition of the Ombudsman’s quick reference guide to the province’s open meeting rules – Open Meetings: Guide for Municipalities. This pocket-sized guide (previously published as the Sunshine Law Handbook) is sent to every municipal clerk and council member in Ontario after municipal elections, and posted online. It includes tips and best practice suggestions for officials, and incorporates recent changes to the law.

“Our staff frequently get questions from municipal officials and the public about when it’s okay to close a meeting,” Mr. Dubé said. “Although we can’t give legal advice, sharing tips and best practices is an important part of our work in improving governance generally.”

Under the Municipal Act, 2001, meetings of municipal councils, local boards and their committees must be open to the public, with certain narrow exceptions. Every municipality is required to have an investigator for complaints about closed meetings; the Ombudsman is the investigator for about half of Ontario’s 444 municipalities.

The Ombudsman also resolves and investigates general complaints about municipalities, school boards, universities, and more than 500 provincial government ministries, agencies, boards, commissions, corporations and tribunals. An independent officer of the Ontario legislature, the Ombudsman recommends solutions to individual and systemic administrative problems.

For more information, contact:
Linda Williamson, Director of Communications
416-586-3426, lwilliamson@ombudsman.on.ca

Download Open Meetings: Guide for Municipalities
Watch the Open Meetings: Case Digest demonstration video