(TORONTO — October 30, 2015) - The Office of the Ontario Ombudsman today celebrates 40 years of helping citizens resolve issues with the provincial government. The occasion comes as the office embarks on an historic expansion of its mandate – something the first Ombudsman began calling for in 1975.
“This anniversary is a welcome opportunity to reflect on the positive impact that an independent watchdog can have in improving governance,” said Acting Ombudsman Barbara Finlay.
The first Ombudsman, Arthur Maloney, was sworn in on October 30, 1975, and the office has since handled some 800,000 individual complaints and conducted scores of in-depth investigations affecting millions of Ontarians. With a broad mandate (under the Ombudsman Act) to look into administrative actions that may be unjust, unfair, discriminatory or simply “wrong,” the Office’s work has sparked reforms to everything from support for the disabled to the treatment of prisoners; from screening of newborn babies to the security of lottery tickets.
“At a time when the role of the public administration has become so great that the impact of its activities affects us all in almost all aspects of our lives, citizens will need to turn to an impartial ombudsman when they believe they have been prejudiced by an act or omission of a civil servant.” Arthur Maloney, Ontario’s first Ombudsman, at his swearing-in, October 30, 1975
The anniversary coincides with the historic expansion of the office’s mandate under the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014 (also known as Bill 8) – something first called for by Mr. Maloney and advocated by his successors ever since, Ms. Finlay said.
“Very soon after he took office, Arthur Maloney noted that many Ontarians were unable to turn to him for help with organizations in the broader public sector, like municipalities, universities and school boards,” she said. “It’s a tribute to his legacy, and that of his successors, that 40 years later we have been entrusted to oversee all three of those sectors.”
The Ombudsman’s office oversees more than 500 provincial ministries, corporations, agencies, boards, commissions and tribunals – and Bill 8 added Ontario’s 82 school boards to this mandate as of September 1. As of January 1, 2016, the office can take complaints about the province’s 444 municipalities and 21 publicly funded universities as well. In order to handle the expected influx of complaints, the office is hiring additional investigators, complaint resolution officers and other staff in the coming months. Ombudsman staff are also reaching out to stakeholders in the municipal, university and school board sectors “to hear their concerns and to ensure they are aware of how we work and what we do,” Ms. Finlay said.
Premier Kathleen Wynne and other parliamentarians congratulated the office on its anniversary and recognized its role in holding government accountable. “I commend the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario for its dedication to operating with professionalism, independence, and integrity to ensure the Ontario government remains fair, transparent and accountable to its citizens,” Premier Wynne said in a written statement.
Opposition Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also commemorated the office’s anniversary with written greetings. “Your office has always presented a strong independent voice for our province’s citizens,” said Mr. Brown. “The commitment and dedication your office has shown demanding accountability and effective governance is admirable.”
Ms. Horwath said: “The Ontario Ombudsman has been a steadfast watchdog for the best interests of the people of Ontario and a thorn in the side of governments of all stripes. Through the office’s many investigations, the Ombudsman has brought important public attention to issues of critical importance to Ontarians.”
There have been six ombudsmen since the Office was established: Mr. Maloney (1975-1978), Donald Morand (1979-1984), Daniel Hill (1984-1989), Roberta Jamieson (1989-1999), Clare Lewis (2000-2005), and André Marin (2005-2015). Ms. Finlay (Deputy Ombudsman since 2005) was appointed as temporary Ombudsman in September pending the Legislative Assembly’s ongoing process to select an ombudsman for the next five years.
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