Monday was quite a colourful day.
To start it off, one of the first voices I heard this morning was that of Councillor Sandy White stating, “I don't feel safe putting myself in this person's hands.”
That sure caught my attention. Whatever was she talking about? I was aware of her resignation from the London Transit Commission on the basis of a disagreement about appropriate advertising on city buses, but who was “this person”?
The statement was made on CJBK's Steve Garrison Show via telephone. I'm not sure why Garrison called White but apparently it was in connection with a Toronto Star story about allegations by some former employees of harassment by of the Ontario ombudsman, Andre Marin. I quickly checked the Toronto Star online, but couldn't find a thing.
Then White's comments became more bizarre. She has a black child, she pointed out. And so does Denise Brown. And Councillor Harold Usher is black.
Actually, Usher is more brown than black, but the ombudsman could make that observation for himself when he comes to London to investigate the complaints of 34 Londoners about the meeting at Billy T's. In fact, he probably already knows, since he interviewed members of council last year when the mayor and some members pulled their little Harmony stunt. But how could the fact that the children of White and Brown are black be of any interest to the ombudsman?
It would have helped if Garrison had been clearer about the source of his information. He mentioned that the story came from the Star and Canadian Press and pointed out that they contained allegations from a couple of former staff members of the ombudsman that they had been harassed by the management in the Ombudsman's office. Only near the end of the interview did he reveal that the information had been sent to him in an email. From whom, we don't know. He did say, however, that this was causing quite a stir on council that morning. So my guess is, he received it from a councillor.
Was it White? Who knows. In fairness to White, she did eventually mention that the story was several years old. Then she threw in, for good measure, the observation that the ombudsman had been fired by the Sudbury council.
It took me a few minutes to track down the sources. Both stories were originally published in May of 2010. Andre Marin's contract as ombudsman was up for renewal and he hadn't been making many friends within the Liberal caucus of McGuinty's government. There had been plenty of reports of government waste and mismanagement, even before the revelation about gas plants and Ornge. Marin doesn't usually pull his punches.
So, according to the opposition parties, a group of Liberals had embarked on a smear campaign to discredit Marin. Premier McGuinty refused to discipline them although he suggested they tone it down a bit. There were complaints to the media about Marin's spending on travel and offices, and although he was eventually re-hired by an all-party committee, the Liberals on that committee had opposed the re-appointment. You can read the Canadian Press story here.
The Toronto Star story followed a few days later. It pointed out that there had been two allegations of racial discrimination by former employees of the Ombudsman's office which normally has a staff of 85 or so people. Those allegations had gone to the Human Rights Commission and have not yet been resolved.
The complaints themselves are not unusual. Resentment of a dress code. Criticism of work habits. Being required to participate in a performance improvement seminar. Not being provided with a dedicated sick room.
These were identified by the complainants as harassment by management. Because they happened to a member of a visible or ethnic minority, they were regarded as racial discrimination. Another complaint was from a woman who was approaching retirement; she described her experience as age discrimination.
These matters have yet to be decided by the Commission, but they seem pretty tame to someone like me who has spent some time in representing workers in grievance hearings. For his part, Marin acknowledges that he has overhauled the office of the Ombudsman. His emphasis is on productivity. He's a hard worker and expects others to be so as well.
The fact that these “news” items were being trotted out on the Steve Garrison Show, and later the Andy Oudman show, suggests that the participants in the Billy T's tete a tete—the mayor, Steve Orser, Dale Henderson, Paul VanMeerbergen, Joe Swan, Bud Polhill and, yes, Sandy White herself, are a little more worried about the outcome of this new investigation than Orser's “I'll have din-din with whoever I want” would suggest. Why else set out to discredit the person doing the investigation via Newstalk radio?
As for the firing of Marin by Sudbury city council, every council has the right to hire its own investigator if it doesn't mind spending the taxpayers' money. But perhaps the community is not all that eager to pay the costs of a council that is uncooperative. In fact, when the item appeared on the agenda for its council meeting last week, at least 150 citizens showed up to boo the council as it voted 9-4 to replace the ombudsman with someone of their own choosing.
Some of the councillors discounted the public response. They hadn't had that many emails (at least 50, said the mayor), just flack from the bloggers. Like Councillors White and Orser, they didn't seem too keen on bloggers.
But their mayor, who had voted against the motion, predicted trouble ahead. The people didn’t like it.
Still, that seems to be the direction that some would like this council to take. White said that she would be talking to the city clerk later that day about raising an enquiry at council on Tuesday. She wasn't clear what form that enquiry would take. Perhaps an emergent motion.
That would take the support of two thirds of council just to get on the floor. When seven of them can't even agree on whether or why they were meeting and how they happened to be in a private room on the outskirts of the city at the same time (some having entered by the back door), I wouldn't wager my income from this blog for the chance of its success.
But it could be the first test of the solidarity of the Fontana 8 since the budget.