05/10/2015 09:00 EDT | Updated 05/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Ontario Government Unleashes Flood Of Consultations

TORONTO - A recent flood of public consultations and expert panels announced in Ontario is raising the question: how much advice is too much advice?

In a three-month window, the Liberal government launched at least 18 public consultations or expert advisory panels, on subjects ranging from climate change to financial planners to moose conservation efforts.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has said it's "very important that government pay attention to people's opinions, that we engage with people, that we get feedback from people outside of government."

On Jan. 26, the government appointed 13 people to a panel determining how to end homelessness. During the next several weeks at least 17 more expert panels and public consultations were launched, up to the creation on April 27 of an expert panel to review regulations of financial planners.

It's getting to be a bit much, say Ontario's opposition parties.

"It's almost as if the government is completely indecisive and can't make its mind up on issues, lacks its own expertise and wants to basically use these things as crutches," said Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Jim Wilson.

In many cases, Wilson believes, the government already knows what it wants to do and the expert panels are just "playing patsy."

Wilson raised the example of the government-appointed panel on asset sales — not included in the 18 recently announced — led by former TD Bank CEO Ed Clark. Originally supposed to examine assets such as the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One, Clark's report released last month was on beer sales and Hydro One.

There was no distinction between what Clark's panel recommended and the actions the government said it would take. Several of Clark's recommendations differed from his November interim report and Wilson suggested the Liberals directed him. Clark has disputed that suggestion.

Members of government-appointed panels are not paid a salary for their work, but travel and other expenses are reimbursed. For the climate change advisory panel the travel expenses are estimated to be around $65,000 per year.

Even though Clark worked for free, he tapped outside consultants for more advice, which cost millions of dollars. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it shows these types of panels and consultations are costing Ontarians and enriching the advisers.

"It's what the Liberals do," she said. "They pull these tables of their friends together and well-connected folks that are Liberal insiders and what they don't do is listen to Ontarians."

The NDP has been strongly campaigning against the government's planned privatization of 60 per cent of Hydro One — recommended by Clark — and is collecting signatures on a petition online.

The Liberals' refusal to acknowledge the 25,000 people who are speaking out against the Hydro One sale shows that even though they hold many public consultations, they're not really listening, Horwath said.

The one public consultation some members of the public have been clamouring for is one the government wouldn't hold.

Opposition to the province's new sexual-education curriculum began before it was even unveiled, because some parents complained they weren't consulted. The school council chairs at Ontario's 4,000 elementary schools were asked for input, but many parents have called for wider consultations.

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