The Office of the Ontario Ombudsman has released its annual report on closed meeting investigations. According to the report, between September 1, 2014 to August 31 2015, the Ombudsman’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (OMLET) reviewed 85 meetings held by 61 municipalities. Of those investigated, the Ombudsman’s Office found that 16 did not meet the requirements of the Municipal Act for open meetings. The OMLET investigations also found 40 procedural violations. Closed meeting investigations have become one of the most prominent features of the local government accountability regime in the last decade.
According to the Municipal Act, all council meetings must be open to the public (except in a limited number of circumstances). However, the current definition of what constitutes a ‘meeting’ under the Act is not clear. Different closed meeting investigators conduct their investigations using different definitions. There has been concern raised in the past that Ontario’s Ombudsman takes an unjustifiably expansive view of what constitutes a meeting.
As part of its submission on the Municipal Act, AMCTO has joined others to ask the government to establish a clear definition of a meeting. Despite some media portrayals, decision-making at the local level is perhaps the most transparent in Canada. While municipal councils attempt to conduct the majority of their business in public, and are investigated when they fail to do so, most decision at the provincial and federal level are made in cabinet or caucus meetings that are always held behind closed doors.