Kathleen Wynne's short leash on accountability: Robert Fisher
When Kathleen Wynne became Premier, she promised to head a government that was open and transparent. In many ways, it was an easy promise to make as head of a party with a tenuous hold on power. But at the time it said so much about the promise of Wynne herself — that she would not follow in the political footsteps of her predecessor minority government.
But now a year after the Liberals won a majority, there is the appearance of open and transparent if necessary, but not necessarily open and transparent.
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Case in point: the newly-appointed watchdog of taxpayers money, Financial Accountability Officer Stephen LeClair. His appointment was part of a deal made between the Liberals and the NDP who proposed the idea based on the federal model of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
The government agreed to the creation of the office and the NDP supported the 2013 provincial budget. It is important to note that LeClair, a well-respected career bureaucrat, is in the language of Queen's Park, "an independent officer" of the legislature.
In his new role, LeClair began a probe of the government's controversial decision to sell off 60 per cent of Hydro One.
But it didn't take long for him to hit a political brick wall.
LeClair's job description says he is to prepare an independent analysis on the state of Ontario's finances, and in that regard, the financial impact of the Hydro One sale.
In May, letters went out to the deputy ministers of energy and finance asking for, among other things, the government's rationale for the sale.
The government's response was a swift 'no'. The information sought by LeClair was deemed to be off limits and beyond the scope of his new office. For the Liberals, that's where the story begins and ends.
"We can have this conversation over and over and over again," said Wynne to reporters when asked about LeClair. "The fact is, the legislation agreed upon by all parties precluded access to cabinet documents."
So, while Wynne has often bragged about the accountability office, she and her government have now left no doubt that LeClair is on a very short leash, which is, unsurprisingly, something that the opposition Conservatives and New Democrats have jumped all over.
If the legislature had been sitting, it would have been a major issue dominating the morning question period and may still have legs when MPPs return in September.
The concern — the legislation notwithstanding — is that this first 'no' to LeClair on Hydro One may be just one of the many to come, though the Premier insists LeClair will have access to information, just "not cabinet documents."
LeClair is undaunted by the task ahead; he told the Toronto Star's Richard Brennan he will do his report on Hydro One, release it to MPPs and make sure the Speaker of the Legislature knows how short the leash is from a government committed to being open and transparent.
LeClair's mandate is to protect taxpayers' money and he seems prepared to do just that, with or without the help of the Wynne government.