“Niagara’s Regional Council now has the power to make the Ontario Ombudsman report meaningless and a waste of time. All of us in the Niagara Region need to pay very special attention to that meeting and make sure the council doesn’t!”
A Commentary by Ed Smith
A Special to Niagara At Large, Posted December 3rd, 2019
The Ontario Ombudsman’s report ‘Inside Job’, on the corrupt hiring of Carmen D’Angelo at Niagara Region, has finally been released.
But what does it really mean?
The report outlines details and events in a fascinating degree of detail, but I can tell you that many people in Niagara already knew most of these details.
To be sure, there were some new details in the report, but the gist of the entire sordid affair was well known and understood by countless citizens who pay attention to local politics in Niagara.
So what does the Ombudsman report really mean?
The corruption of the last version of council exposed the Niagara Region to –
- National ridicule on more than a single occasion, created a culture of fear in government workplaces throughout Niagara,
- Resulted in dozens of well qualified and ethical employees’ lives being torn asunder (along with their families),
- Resulted in immeasurable losses to our natural environment and,
- Totally corrupted our democratic processes and institutions.
The corrupted hiring of Carmen D’Angelo was not the work of a solo bad actor.
The internet defines a conspiracy as “a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful”, and it defines collusion as “secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.”
Both definitions easily fit into what transpired within the realm of our highest local government institution (Niagara’s regional government), and it does not take much effort to apply those definitions to other government institutions in Niagara who were under the same influences at the time.
Ironically, some of the councillors who might have been involved in the conspiracy and collusion are still on council today, and they will be part of the debate to determine what happens next.
At the council meeting of April 12 2018 Jim Diodati (Mayor of Niagara Falls and regional councillor) argued against asking Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube’s office to investigate anything.
Diodati strongly preferred the appointment of a lawyer to investigate.
In arguing against an Ontario Ombudsman probe, Diodatti said in part –
“I don’t have a lot of faith in that approach, Mr. Chair (Niagara’s regional chair at the time was Al Caslin) because it’s been three months now and we still don’t know where we are, and having been through Ombudsman’s investigations I know they don’t carry authority, they just make recommendations and they give you their opinion and that’s it, it’s all over, there’s not a slap on the wrist, there’s nothing…”
Diodati won his argument that day and the Ontario Ombudsman was not asked to investigate and the Region appointed a lawyer of their own choosing to do the investigation, and that report found zero wrongdoing in the hiring of Carmen D’Angelo.
Not only did that investigator find nothing wrong, but based on his report, council voted to apologize to Carmen D’Angelo.
It seems just as laughable now as it seemed then. Thankfully, Diodati lost in the long run, and in August 2018 the Region asked Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube to investigate.
So what does the Ontario Ombudsman’s report, titled “Inside Job” and released this November 29th, really mean then?
Do we, as Canadians, value our democracy?
Do we value the rule of law?
Do we value good governance and elected officials acting in good faith?
I feel certain there is going to be a voice on council that will say; “We need to move forward. What’s done is done. We need to move forward and not look back.”
Unfortunately I have heard that sentiment reflected by elected officials too many times in this region and I think it is suspiciously misguided.
Accountability is a major component of public trust.
Any possible criminal behaviour must be seen not to be tolerated and must be investigated to the fullest extent.
If council chooses not to pursue any legal actions against the players involved, they are in effect allowing them to get away with it.
They are reinforcing the notion that in government, any degree of corruption is not really punishable.
It is very plain to many, if not all of us in Niagara that the corruption was deep and rampant, and that it was not confined to a single institution. Ater all, Carmen D’Angelo did come from the NPCA where he was hired as CAO there under a cloud questions and controversy as well.
Dozens of people who were not elected officials chose to put themselves on the line in order to get us to the point we are at today, including heroic whistleblowers who risked everything to get this story to the public.
They could not sit idly by and watch the rot continue. Niagara owes a debt of gratitude to these people, and to the media, without whom none of this would have been exposed.
On April 08 2019, it was reported that council had decided not to pursue legal action against Al Caslin because he had been humiliated by his electoral defeat, and of course they did not hold that discussion in public.
If any regional councillor does not understand that one of their primary duties as an elected official is to uphold and promote good democracy and its institutions let them at least have the courage to say it in open session.
So what does the Ontario Ombudsman’s report really mean? Was Jim Diodati right when he argued it was a waste of time?
It may have been a waste of time to Jim Diodatti. (His administration has been the object of two negative reports from the Ombudsman). But is it a waste of time in the Regional Municipality of Niagara?
Only Regional Council can decide that, and they will at the special meeting they have called for this coming Thursday, December 5th, starting at 3 p.m.
Niagara’s Regional Council now has the power to make the Ontario Ombudsman report meaningless and a waste of time.
All of us in the Niagara Region need to pay very special attention to that meeting and make sure the council doesn’t!
Ed Smith is a resident of St. Catharines, a retired officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, and a community activist who also serves as a director of A Better Niagara, a region-wide citizen watchdog group.
To view a clip of Niagara Falls Mayor and Regional Councillor Jim Diodati, at an April 2018 Regional Council Meeting led by then Chair Al Caslin, expressing his ‘lack of faith’ in an Ontario Ombudsman investigation, click on the following link –https://www.youtube.com/embed/W3NEX3E3D20?start=4245&end=4353
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