Lend your voice to democracy

The Ontario Legislature recently passed Bill 130, which made sweeping changes to the way municipalities operate by giving them new powers and responsibilities.
It also gave the citizens of Ontario a power they’ve never had before—a method to challenge the legality of a closed-door council meeting.
While this is an excellent first step, it does have some major shortcomings. For one, it only deals with municipal councils and their committees. No hospital boards, school boards, boards of health, police services boards, library boards, college or university governing bodies, Local Health Integration Networks, Ontario Municipal Board, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, electric utilities, or parks commissions.
These public institutions, which have a huge impact on the lives of people in this community, either operate under rules which allow them to exclude anyone they want from meetings for any reason, or offer the public no way to challenge the decisions of these groups to shut the public out of what otherwise would be an open meeting.
Although Bill 130 allows us to challenge a decision, it offers no consequences for a council that breaks the law other than a public report that confirms it.
To address these concerns, Niagara Falls MPP (and former alderman) Kim Craitor has introduced a private member’s bill, the Transparency in Public Matters Act, that would force meetings of these bodies (as well as municipalities) to be open to the public—and would allow citizens to stand up for their right to access how decisions are made.
Like Bill 130, it gives the public the right to challenge the closure of a public meeting. But unlike Bill 130, it allows the Information and Privacy Commissioner to disallow any decisions taken during an improperly-held secret meeting.
It also standardizes the list of reasons the public legitimately could be kept from the process, which is important given the hodgepodge of regulations that currently apply or, as with some public bodies, the whims of their members.
Across Ontario there is a fatigue with governments at all levels. People, who are interested in being involved in the decisions that shape their communities, get frustrated when they are stonewalled by the very organizations created to work on their behalf.
In order to fight the spread of this cancer on democracy and protect people’s right to attend meetings and learn about what is being done in their name, Ontario needs strong, enforceable laws that make it not only easy, but in many cases possible, for citizens to participate in the process.
The Transparency in Public Matters Act goes a long way towards making that a reality. But without the support of concerned and involved citizens, the private member’s bill may die.
Its death would continue the disenchantment with our political process, which only will lead to greater public sector secrecy and further alienate people from those who supposedly work on our behalf.