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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Delegated Administrative Authorities

Mark Winfield
York University

My new study published in the September 2015 edition of Canadian Public Administration “Public Safety in Private Hands Revisited: the Case of Ontario’s Technical Standards and Safety Authority” examines  Ontario’s experience with the use of delegated administrative authorities as models for the delivery of public safety and consumer protection regulatory functions.

Three things you should know about the use of delegated administrative authorities: 
1. What are delegated administrative authorities (DAAs)?
DAAs are private, non-profit corporations, usually established by statute, for the purpose of assuming regulatory functions or delivering services previously carried out by government agencies. They are governed by boards of directors, a minority of whom are appointed by the delegating government. 
2. How widespread is their use?
Since their first appearance in the early 1990s, DAAs have come to be the option of choice among provincial governments for the delivery of any new regulatory functions that may be required, and for many existing but low-profile regulatory activities. They are particularly prevalent in areas of “technical” safety related regulatory functions such as amusement rides, elevators, and fuel handling and storage.  Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have been especially enthusiastic in their embrace of the model. 
3. What are the key concerns about the DAA model?
The performance of DAAs as safety regulators, particularly Ontario’s Technical Safety and Standards Authority (TSSA) has been the subject of ongoing concerns from legislative officers, non-governmental organizations and the media. Criticism of the DAA model has 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 model has also been criticized for the potential for conflicts of interest in its governance structure and weak accountability and oversight structures.
Three myths about DAAs
Myth #1: “DAAs are working effectively and efficiently as regulators of public safety
and consumer protection” – Ontario Commission on the Reform of Public Services 2012.
The reality: Serious concerns have been raised repeatedly about the performance of DAAs as public safety and consumer protection regulators by Ontario’s Auditor General, committees of the Legislative Assembly, non-governmental organizations and the media.    
Myth #2: The Government of Ontario believes that the existing DAA model “is an effective service delivery model that provides regulatory oversight while improving regulatory efficiencies. It is consistent with best practices for accountability and governance.” – 2012 Ontario Budget.

The reality: While remaining publicly  steadfast in its support of the DAA model, in practice the province has adopted legislation that has significantly strengthened its oversight and control of the TSSA and other DAAs, with the implication of substantial concerns within government about their performance and accountability and governance structures.

Myth #3: DAAs allow ministers to avoid responsibility for regulatory failures

The reality: A key factor in Ontario’s decision to dramatically revise the legislative framework for its DAAs was 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.  

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.
Dr. Mark Winfield is an Associate Professor with the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University and Co-Chair of the Sustainable Energy Initiative. His latest book is Blue-Green Province: The Environment and the Political Economy of Ontario.

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