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Thursday 28 May 2015

Andre Marin and the Role of Ombudsman

Please, keep in your thoughts and prayers at this most difficult time.
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Most people have no clue who Andre Marin is, nor what the role of the Ombudsman is.  Of the public, those who recognize his name and his post view him as a hard-hitting government watchdog, protecting the realm from government misanthropes.  

Like them or not, under Marin's watch the Office of the Ombudsman has produced hard-hitting reports presented with the flair of an advocacy group; he knows how to work a headline, he knows how to get attention.  You can see some of these reports here.

Of course, his performance has not been without criticism.  Some of it has stemmed from the content of his reports; that's expected.  When people are attacked, especially if there's justification, the instinct tends to be "fight back"  Kill or be killed, etc.  No one wants to lose face, or privilege, or face consequences.

It makes sense that the Ombudsman has to be someone ready and willing to be tough - but also fair. Especially when the person filling that role is responsible for surfacing misconduct, their own actions must be beyond reproach.  

There have been a whole host of complaints over the years that put Marin well within the realm of reproach.  It's certainly possible to dismiss all the complaints filed and the high rates of staff turnover as sour grapes or team members who "didn't make the cut", but this raises questions about HR practice, expectations set, etc.  It's certainly not common for an office to develop a support group (CADOO Coalition Against Discrimination at Ombudsman Ontario).  

There are expense questions as well, though it must be said this is a bit of a political culture thing we're noticing at all levels rather than a story unique to one office.

Which is why the Open Movement is so promising - public servants working to put the public good first, promoting transparency in government, collaboration on policy with citizens (like the Open Data Directive), etc.  There's a slow culture shift away from the old-school frame of power broker or information gate keeper.  

It's a difficult transition, especially in a work culture where employees are often afraid of being "public servant zero" - the epicentre for a scandal, whether of their making or not.  Outreach is sometimes discouraged, innovation stifled - the silo effect is a big part of government's structural problem.  The Virtuous Schemers working quietly behind the scenes to open the silos of government are courageous and inspiring.

These Virtuous Schemers strike a careful balance between respecting the constraints of their position and their commitment to public, rather than partisan, service.  Not a one of them puts self before service.

Which, to me, is the most troubling part of Marin's active and aggressive campaign for the job.  That kind of hard-sell might be how sales works - it might be the kind of approach politicians take in "reapplying" for their job (seeking a new mandate from their constituents).

Yet the office of Ombudsman is an appointment.  More than that, it's one that comes with a great deal of power.  To be appointed is an honour that comes with a duty.  It's not, by design, a gig you mount public campaigns for.  

In so doing, Marin has created a constituency and seeded with information that takes liberties with the facts.

3/3 Yep. In less than 48 hours, u have no Ombudsman. Time to make ur voice heard. Unfortunately it's come to this. MAKE SOME NOISE PLEASE!
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Consider - should Marin be reappointed, he could very well point to his "Marin Nation" of constituent support as justification and validation for his business-as-usual.  He could continue to block out voices he doesn't care to hear from (happened to me tonight - not from Marin's personal account, but the office's account).  What impact will that have on his capacity to shed light where it's most needed?

Consider - he's been in the role for a decade; that's about a good time for anyone in positions of power to step down, before they confuse their position with themselves.  

The Office of the Ombudsman is not facing a "difficult time" - it's in the middle of a defined administrative process that will carry on long after Marin is gone.  I doubt Marin himself is facing a "difficult time;" he's a man with a long career and  list of accomplishments he can point to.  Plus, he's that bulldog, right?  That's the sort of ABC mentality that's doing well in sales these days.

I think that, after ten years and some questions raised over his tenure, now's a great opportunity for Andre Marin to try out some new opportunities and for Ontario to have a new, hard-hitting Ombudsman who brings new energy and is a little less comfortable with the massive leeway and power that comes with the role.

If anything, it was his partisan-esque Twitter campaign that solidified that.  A leadership quote to end with I hope Marin takes to heart:

Most people will never know who Marin is, but it would be a shame if they come to view the office of the ombudsman itself with suspicion or derision.  Let's avoid that.

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