Skip to main content

Public Safety in Private Hands Revisited: the Case of Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority

Over the past twenty years Delegated Administrative Authorities (DAAs) have come to be widely employed as a model for delivering public safety and consumer protection regulatory functions at the provincial level in Canada. Although strongly supported by governments, the model has been subject to considerable criticism from legislative committees and officers, non-governmental organizations, and the media.

Ontario has been among the most enthusiastic in its embrace of the DAA model. Although first introduced in the mid-1990s during the ‘common sense revolution’ period of the first government of Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris, the model not only survived the transition to a Liberal government led by Dalton McGuinty in 2003, but then emerged as the option of choice for the McGuinty and now Wynne governments in relation to any new regulatory functions that might be required. The model received an almost unqualified endorsement in the 2012 report of the province’s Commission on the Reform of Public Services.

Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) is the province’s most prominent DAA, with a wide range of regulatory responsibilities related to public safety and consumer protection. The TSSA’s performance and governance and accountability structures have been the subject of ongoing concerns from legislative officers, non-governmental organizations and the media. The criticisms of the DAA model have been reinforced by a number of high profile regulatory failures on the part of the TSSA, most notably the 2008 Sunrise Propane explosion and fire in Toronto. The Ornge air ambulance fiasco, which involved an organization very similar in structure to the DAAs, raised further questions about the wisdom of the model as a vehicle for service delivery

Throughout these events, the provincial government has publicly remained steadfast in its support of the DAA model. At the same time however, the province has adopted legislation significantly strengthening its oversight and control of the TSSA and other DAAs, with the implication of substantial concerns within government about their structure and performance. Ontario’s experience is similar to that seen in other jurisdictions that were initially very enthusiastic in their adoption of new public management service delivery models, but who have subsequently moved in the direction of strengthening oversight and control structures and even re-governmentalizing delegated functions.

While concerns over the fragmentation and siloing of decision-making and service delivery were the key drivers of reform New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, Ontario’s motives have been quite different. In the province’s case, the key consideration appears to have been the recognition that ministers would be held accountable by the legislature, media and public for what were seen as regulatory and management failures, regardless of the service delivery mechanisms in place. These risks of political exposure prompted the establishment of much tighter oversight and control structures than originally had been put in place.

Notwithstanding these reforms, the Ontario DAAs retain their formal status as non-governmental entities, and significant gaps remain with respect to their accountability and governance structures. These gaps include the continuing non-application of access to information legislation and the absence of jurisdiction for key legislative officers, including the provincial Ombudsman.

Further Reading:
Winfield, Mark (2015) “Public Safety in Private Hands revisited: The case of Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority”. Canadian Public Administration 58(3): 444-467.