Ontario's Ombudsman says that despite receiving more than 40 complaints in the past two days about Sudbury city council, he will not be investigating them.

Sudbury city council, which had previously referred complaints about closed-door meetings to the provincial office, voted this week to end the relationship. Mayor Marianne Matichuk was the only person to vote in favour of keeping ombudsman Andre Marin on the case.


Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin. (CBC)

Marin said his office won't be pursuing further investigations regarding Sudbury, but will contact people who have complained about city council and offer to forward them to the new investigator.

"You know, council were not co-operating when we were clearly in the legal right to investigate," Marin said.

"I can't imagine things would be any better," Marin said. "We have better use of our resources than channel it to a city council who has gone rogue."  

City council has decided to hire a private firm, the Local Authority Services, hired through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to be the new closed door meeting investigator. 

The firm says it will keep the process as transparent as possible, but Sudburians responded quickly to the news by slamming the move on Twitter, internet news sites, and CBC Radio's talkback line.  

"Council needs to grow up and stop behaving like little children — hurt little children," one caller said.

Some critics point to the fact the firm council wants to hire was founded by Sudbury's former city solicitor, Fred Dean. They have accused council of looking for a soft touch.

No-win political situation

But Nancy Plumridge, who speaks for the new investigating firm, said there is a strict policy against conflicts of interest like that.

"We are trying to be as transparent and open as possible," she said. "And using someone who has worked in that municipality is not the way to go."

University of Western Ontario political scientist Andrew Sancton said this is a no-win political situation for Sudbury’s council. The choice to fire someone hired to be critical of council is one that looks bad in the public eye, he added.

"Citizens tend to side with the critics," Sancton said. "Certainly people who are online are often very critical of what council is doing."

Meanwhile, the Ontario Ombudsman is technically still Sudbury's investigator for the next two weeks until the bylaw can officially be changed.

Who is the new investigating firm?

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has an affiliated agency called Local Authority Services, which provide a range of different contract services to municipalities, including serving as the closed-door meeting investigator.

Since 2008, all cities and towns in Ontario are required to have an investigator like this.

Local Authority Services facilitates this by contracting out a private firm called Amberley Gavel.

In Sudbury, there has been some criticism of this new investigator, because one of the founders of Amberley Gavel is a man named Fred Dean who for 20 years was Sudbury's city solicitor.

Many critics, including Mayor Marianne Matichuk, suggest this investigator may not be totally impartial and may have a bit of a soft hand with city council, considering this past connection.