Ontario’s Ombudsguy can dish it out but can’t take it
Note: This week–on August 8th, 2013–Ontario’s galavanting, quixotic ombudsguy André Marin, lashed out at a press conference against a GTA police detective (whom Marin was inexplicably able to identify by name) for tweeting on a “fake” (and now deleted) Twitter account that Marin was a “card-carrying member” of the al Qaeda terrorist group. “Joe Mayo” also called the O-man a “douchebag” and told him to not to stick his “French nose” into police biz…
Problem is that Marin’s latest self-generated media shitstorm belies his own established practice of abusing his “official” Twitter account on the ubiquitous social network to issue 140-character missives on all things Marin and to lambaste individuals (including GTA coppers) in his past twitterings.
Seems that when he finds himself on the receiving end of the same vitreol as was served up by the pseudonymous “Joe Mayo”, the Ombudsman is better at pitching than catching.
To wit, an indignant Marin went so far as to tell the media this week that, as quoted by the Toronto Star: “He identified the officer allegedly responsible for the Joe Mayo account…because ‘hiding behind an anonymous account to propagate hate tweets is just not right.’”
Still reeling in disbelief at this evident memory lapse LOON’s archivists were diligent enough to lay their mitts on this ‘pre-enjoyed’ post from May 2010 highlighting some of Marin’s most notable tweets, including some that may have been “not just right”.
Government Accused of Trying to Oust an Outspoken Critic
Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty took time out yesterday from an Ontario Liberal party conference in Collingwood to defuse allegations that his government has been trying to get rid of Ontario Ombudsman André Marin and replace him with someone less effective.
Some opponents of the McGuinty government accuse the Liberal leader of bad faith in going “outside” for a replacement. They say it’s because Marin has done too good a job of overseeing and outspokenly criticizing the very government departments and agencies he is supposed to monitor, often to the irritation or worse of McGuinty’s ruling party.
One indication of that may have been the subtle hint dropped when the Lieutenant Governor’s office, which formally appoints the Ombudsman, decided in April not to extend Marin’s tenure and to open up the position to a public competition.
But McGuinty insists that there’s no hard feelings (really, there aren’t, take his word for it) between his crew and the incumbent provincial government “watchdog” notwithstanding some unpleasant and very public disagreements between the two over government funding of a cancer drug (Avastin) and the management of the troubled Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.
Au contraire, insisted the Premier by way of an unintentional height reference, “I think that he has been very helpful…very effective at pointing out shortcomings.”
According to McGuinty the decision to put Marin’s job up for competition was not borne of spite but because “there are a number of people who generally express an interest in these kinds of things, and I think the fair thing to do is to create an opportunity for openness.”
In its national edition yesterday The Globe & Mail alluded vaguely to “reports of Liberal grumblings about Marin’s expenses, including complaints that he’s claiming frequent travel to his Ottawa home and made extensive renovations to his new office” and “reports that two human rights complaints have been filed against the Ombudsman’s office.”
Marin has been criticized in his previous roles–as head of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) looking into police shooting and use of force incidents and as Ombudsman for the federal defence department. Marin’s client constituencies were for the most part supportive and the targets of his ombudsmanship sometimes testy to say the least.
Marin is, if nothing else, not shy about blowing his own horn. In a 1997 interview in the Ottawa Sun, he immodestly referred to himself as “a great man.”
“When you’re going down south and there’s no work to do…”
At times, Marin has been a tad narcissistic. In a speech entitled “When the Levee Breaks“-also the title of a Led Zeppelin-reprised 1929 blues song by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie- that he gave in April 2010 at the annual conference of the International Ombudsman Association in New Orleans, Marin actually compared the challenges facing him as a paid government muckraker to those confronting local victims of Hurricane Katrina:
“Just as natural disaster, economic collapse, and other catastrophes are an inevitable part of the human condition, the institutions we build to protect ourselves from these things face their own set of challenges. Governments and corporations are massive administrative structures, and for the most part, they function reasonably well for the people they serve. But they are far from perfect, and that is where we as Ombudsmen come in – to act as the oil in the administrative machinery, the safety valve for our organizations when internal friction or outside pressures get too strong. We serve as a barometer for the storms that may be on the way….When all works well, our work is appreciated on all sides and the storms blow over, with everyone better off as a result. But make no mistake, new storms are always out there, and if we don’t stay on top of them, they can threaten the very existence of not just the organizations we serve, but the Ombudsman’s role as well… In other words, sometimes, the levee breaks.
But so far Marin, who is usually not at a loss for words, has made little comment other than to dismiss the current criticisms of him as unfounded, including a rumour that there was a less than amiable work environment in his Toronto offices.
The Twitter© Factor
But it may be this Ombudsman’s penchant for other attention-getting stances and remarks in the months leading up to this impasse, including his fondness for “social networking” sites like Facebook (his office has a page) and his hourly use of Twitter to disseminate his own streams of consciousness, may also have played a part in or underscored his knack for attracting as many detractors as followers.
A glance at the Ombudsman Ontario Twitter site– which touts itself as “the official account of Ontario Ombudsman who investigates complaints about the ON government” and stipulates that “Ombudsman André Marin tweets personally unless otherwise noted”– may support that inference.
During the four months from New Year’s 2010 until the end of April, Ombudsman Marin made frequent use of the office’s Twitter account to personally “tweet” on a range of topics that routinely included personal or family-related matters and issues and persons unconnected to his duties as Ontario Ombudsman.
With a Twitter account audience of more than 1,800, Marin’s self-registered “followers” ran the gamut from Toronto mayoral candidate George Smitherman to the George Richards Men’s Clothing retail store (“Big or Small We Fit Them All”).
From his hand-held device or a computer, the Ontario Ombudsman held forth in the restrictive 145-character Twitter format on topics that included his personal gym workouts, attending his son’s soccer matches, his upcoming interview and profile article in Canadian Runner magazine, the upper body strength of Olympic speed skaters, Tim Hortons serving muffins for breakfast, “how all the sand got in his luggage” during his January 2010 vacation in Jamaica, and whether or not he should see the new Sherlock Holmes movie.
And even when Marin was “tweeting” about his official duties as Ontario Ombudsman, he was far from circumspect in the scope of subjects he offered remarks or comments about, including the renewal of his own term of office.
For example, on March 24th, 2010, just before 1 o’clock in the afternoon, Marin tweeted that: “Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. Order in Council extends my term as Ombudsman for 6 months. ” This was followed later that day with:”Thanks Premier and Cabinet for ur support and opportunity to continue the good work of my Office 4 the next 6 months. Hopefully beyond.”
“How much trouble can you really get into in 140 characters?”
So asks the Ontario Ombudsman in a quotation that appears in the agency’s newsletter at its Facebook site, a question immediately answered with a lengthy reference to Marin’s personal hand in applying the new web tool.
“Recognized for his enthusiastic use of Twitter, Ontario Ombudsman André Marin was the lead speaker at a conference on social media in Toronto on Oct. 27. Mr. Marin, who tweets personally as Ont_Ombudsman, praised Twitter as “the ultimate people connector,” which allows him to engage directly with Ontarians in a personal but efficient way.
Citing his “five reasons why I like Twitter,” Mr. Marin detailed his experiences in using the social networking tool for almost a year, and mused about how he hopes to be able to employ it in investigations in future.
“How much trouble can you really get into in 140 characters?” he joked, advocating that more ombudsmen, CEOs and other executives use the tool.
If recent events are any indication, public figures can and do get into a lot of trouble using Twitter. And the phrase “Twitter abuse” is already in circulation on the web.
In April 2010, Scott MacLennan, a Scottish Labour candidate in the U.K. election was forced to withdraw after he tweeted derogatory comments during the campaign, in one tweet referring to senior citizens as “coffin dodgers.”
Only last week, U.S. President Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs used his official White House Twitter account to tweet an endorsement for his favourite bicycle store, a message in which Gibbs’ name appears in parentheses alongside the acronym “EOP” for “Executive Office of the President”.
And perhaps the most notorious Twitter fart in recent memory came from failed U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. After the acrimonious passage of the health care reform bill by Congress in April, Palin tweeted to her discouraged conservative followers “not to retreat, but to reload.”
The Andre Marin “Twitter Tracker”
Marin’s liberal use of the “tool” during his term of office as Ontario Ombudsman raises questions not just about his penchant for unabashed self-promotion and self-praise but also his judgment in broadcasting his personal thoughts on a panoply of subjects and persons unrelated to his office.
For example, in two separate tweets on January 27th and 29th this year, Marin’s followers are tweeted to his own impromptu product review of the new Apple iPad:
“Best thing about new iPad? It connects to projectors and has mobile version of Keynote! Amen!…Sober 2nd thought on the iPad: no multitasking apps and no camera are a drag. But priced like a 2008 32G iPod still makes it a steal.”
What follows is an edited collection of some of Marin’s other official Ontario Ombudsman Twitter tweets that he sent out between January and April 2010:
- Of course, my home fire detector acts up tonight of all nights! Impossible to fix. Impossible frustration. (
#lawyer Kevin Murphy hides under judge’s robes after exploiting court’s pervasive misconduct 5 Jan 10;
23 items on my “to-do” list at last count, not including sub-items. My fav one: pack for Jamaica!
I’m baaaack! Incredible to catch up with the news, including that catastrophe that happened in Haiti. So sad.
How did all that sand get into my luggage. Oh yeah, I’m just coming back from JA. Suddenly seems like so long ago.
Thinking of seeing #Sherlock Holmes this aft. Anyone saw it? Good or bad?
Watching House first time in a long time. Why’s everyone’s hair so much shorter?
So Tim Horton’s has English muffins for bf. Whoopie.
Canadian Runner mag interviewing me on Friday for upcoming profile piece. What should I tell them about?
Back from my short hiatus from Twitter. How’s everyone doing?
About to celeb TGIF w 5 X 10 Min/mile intervals and ab work. Tonight, chest and biceps.
- Look for a mini-profile of Hugo and me’s running in next month’s Cdian Runner: “http://bit.ly/d9SL3y”>http://bit.ly/d9SL3y (3:38 PM Mar 3rd)
- Petition to get me reappointed hits 100 names and counting in a day. How cool is that?
- Check out When the Levee Breaks, my speech from last week in N’awlins
- Looking forward to my chest, biceps, abs workout this evening. They’re going to get it big time. (9:11 AM Apr 21st via Tweetie)
- Don’t miss the mini-profile… my training in this May’s Canadian Running mag. (9:26 AM Apr 23rd via Tweetie)
If the author of these snippets were just an ordinary citizen and not one entrusted with being the independent “watchdog” of the Ontario government and its agencies, it would pass unnoticed like so much other disposable internet drivel (uh, political blogs, even?).
The problem in Marin’s case is that his official role, grounded on autonomy and independence from the government of the day, puts an arguably greater onus on its incumbent to know when and when not to draw attention to himself.