Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé announced plans Thursday for his office to take over the investigative functions of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, which the provincial government has ordered to close.
According to the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act passed this fall, the Ombudsman's office is taking over the investigative functions of outgoing child advocate Irwin Elman in the area of children's aid societies and child protection, but not its advocacy roles, and as a result some of Elman's staff will be let go, including an advocacy-focused office in Thunder Bay and some support staff.
“It must be understood that an ombudsman is not an interest advocate; an ombudsman is an impartial investigator who advocates for fairness and good governance, but not for individuals,” Dubé said in a statement. “That is the strength we bring to this new task, and our new child and youth unit, which will include experienced investigators from the former Advocate’s team, will help us ensure our new responsibilities toward children are met."
The Ombdusman's office will be ready for the transition by the beginning of the fiscal year, he said. His office is also slated to absorb the French Language Services Commissioner’s office and plans for those responsibilities will be finalized soon.
Government House Leader Todd Smith told reporters Thursday that he and his office told caucus to treat the autism controversy calmly and with respect — and that is why Randy Hillier's "yada, yada, yada" heckle crossed the line.
Hillier was suspended from PC caucus on Wednesday after making the comment at the end of a tense question period focused on autism — and while Hillier has said it was directed at an NDP MPP, not autism parents, Smith said it violated the decision the House Leader's Office came to about the tone government members take on the "serious and emotional" autism issue.
"We made a decision yesterday that we were going to be very calm and deal with the situation in a respectful way and unfortunately one of our members decided he wasn't going to be respectful on this issue," said Smith.
Smith repeated that response when asked why Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod had made on the autism issue, including referring to one group of activist autism families as "professional protesters."
"A decision was made this week by the house leader and our house team on how we're going to handle this subject. It was made this week," he said. "That's how we're going to handle it going forward, is in a very respectful way, understanding the frustration of parents who've been impacted negatively.
"But there are also a lot of parents who've been impacted positively by the decision our ministry has made, getting those 23,000 children off the wait list is so important," he added.
Hillier is "in the penalty box" because he made the decision to respond to the issue flippantly, said Smith.
Hillier's fate in the caucus is set to be discussed at an upcoming caucus meeting, the next of which is scheduled for Tuesday, but Smith said he couldn't confirm a decision would be reached at that time.