Like many jurisdictions with parliamentary traditions, the Ontario legislature appoints legislative officers, sometimes called parliamentary officers, to oversee and review activities of government that warrant special concern.

Their duties include regularly issuing public reports that critically evaluate government performance in specific areas.

The officers are chosen by an all-party Committee and report directly to the legislature through the speaker, not to the premier and the government.

Tradition and current legislation say they are appointed for specific terms and cannot be removed during that time (unless they can no longer do their job or have committed a wrong-doing serious enough to give the legislature “cause.”)

This inherent security of their positions is necessary to protect the officers from undue influence by the government they review, or from reprisal for revealing embarrassing information in their reports.

End of the era of independent officers

Ontario has nine legislative officers. Bill 57, recently introduced by Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative majority government, would cut that to six by eliminating the Ontario Child Advocate, the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner and the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

But Bill 57 goes much further. Bill 57 fundamentally undermines the independence of legislative officers by allowing a party with a majority to suspend any legislative officer based merely on “the opinion the suspension is warranted.”

Of course, there is no precedent, no test or limitation to guide that opinion.

This power to arbitrarily suspend officers means the end of the era of independent officers of the legislature. Officers will now be “sitting ducks” to threats of retaliation by the governing party demanding a say in what they reveal in their public reports to the Legislature.

By failing to bend to the governing party’s wishes, officers will risk their jobs, even though their jobs are explicitly to shine light on things gone wrong. And just to make sure the threat is clear, Bill 57 also removes the ability of eliminated officers to seek compensation for their loss of income in the courts.

Clear threat to remaining officers' independence

Should you be so naive as to believe that such interference or retribution would be neither allowed or tolerated in Ontario, look no further than the current Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s Sept. 25, 2018 Greenhouse Gas Progress report, where she defended the merits of cap-and-trade. Then I invite you to read the response letter sent by the minister of environment conservation and parks.

The minister responded, in part, “I want to respectfully advise that any suggestion we should pursue policies that betray commitments we made to the people is not well taken.” The veiled threat made two months ago, was cloaked in the language of respect because of the protection of the independence that the commissioner enjoyed at the time.

Move ahead in time and read the sentence again, through the eyes of a legislative officer who can be summarily suspended because of the opinion of the governing party, and the threat emerges with great clarity.

Bill 57 masquerades as an economic efficiency initiative, while it is a vehicle to dismantle an important parliamentary mechanism of government accountability. It is a shiny new tool for the governing party to stifle the criticism of parliamentary watchdogs using intimidation and threats. Is the Ontario public well-served by this development? I think not.

Gord Miller served as Ontario’s environment commissioner for three terms and four different premiers.

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Dam.

Political onanism - the immature desire to get rid of the "other" in gender, looks, race and values.

Cheap and nasty - Bill 57 and its wing clipping of the formerly independent commissioners is just more proof of the fact that the current PC government has absolutely no intention of governing responsibly. They have lied to the Ontario electorate from the beginning of the campaign - either in outright error filled attacks on the other parties, or by omission, refusing to answer legitimate questions about their platform, agenda, or legislative priorities.

To date, all their actions have been destructive and when not destructive clearly bent on accumulating power into the hands of a very few. Their backbenchers act like robots with mechanical standing ovations and sound like broken records "everyone is thanking me, everyone is thanking us for rolling back labour rights!" They do not seem to recognize that while they proclaim that Ontario is open for business again - (as though it was ever closed) "reforms, " such as they enact will do much to destroy Ontario's reputation for a well educated, trained and willing work force. How far can you push workers before they start to push back - or bail out? When you kill the new, green businesses, when you stifle innovation, the talent will go where the opportunities are. Investors will look twice at how well Ontario will meet their needs. The world offshore, is full of workers who will do the labour intensive jobs, it is not so full of people whose mind set, work ethic, probity, will necessarily advance one's business, or deal with one under conditions of integrity.

Manufacturers who resort to making things in China or elsewhere, often find that if they want to replicate the quality of work they are used to, they have to pay more - to get equivalent quality materials, and equivalent quality workmanship. Of course, if quality is not their first concern then the product cost may suit them well - even if it doesn't suit the consumer.

Governments and taxpayers who cut corners inevitably wind up in the same sink hole. You get what you pay for.

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