Ombudsman begins taking complaints about Ontario municipalities and universities on New Year’s Day
December 31, 2015
31 December, 2015
Beginning tomorrow – January 1, 2016 – the Ontario Ombudsman is officially able to take complaints about the province’s 444 municipalities and 21 publicly funded universities. This historic expansion of the Ombudsman’s mandate is the result of the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014, which also extended the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to school boards on September 1, 2015.
TORONTO (December 31, 2015) – Beginning tomorrow – January 1, 2016 – the Ontario Ombudsman is officially able to take complaints about the province’s 444 municipalities and 21 publicly funded universities. This historic expansion of the Ombudsman’s mandate is the result of the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014, which also extended the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to school boards on September 1, 2015.
“New Year’s Day is an important day for accountability in Ontario,” said Acting Ombudsman Barbara Finlay. “We look forward to being able to help thousands of people resolve their problems with municipalities and universities, just as we have done for 40 years with provincial government issues. We have spent months preparing for this new responsibility, which more than doubles the number of public sector bodies within our jurisdiction.”
Anyone with an unresolved complaint about a municipality or university can contact the Ombudsman via the online complaint form at www.ombudsman.on.ca. Complaints can also be filed by phone at 1-800-263-1830, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Office will be closed for New Year’s Day, but resumes normal hours January 4.
Ms. Finlay stressed that although the Ombudsman has strong powers to investigate a wide range of issues it encourages local resolution of problems, and is an office of last resort. “We encourage municipalities and universities to bolster their own complaint mechanisms, including their own ombudsmen,” she said. “Our role is not to replace those offices, but to be there to ensure they work as they should, and to step in where they fail or cannot go.”
The Ombudsman’s Office receives more than 20,000 complaints per year about the more than 500 provincial government bodies (ministries, agencies, boards, commissions, corporations and tribunals) it oversees. Most cases are resolved informally, but the Ombudsman has strong powers to investigate both individual and systemic problems and to recommend solutions. The Office will work the same way with complaints about municipalities, universities and school boards, Ms. Finlay said.
The need for independent oversight of broader public sector organizations like municipalities, universities and school boards was identified by the first Ombudsman, Arthur Maloney, in the 1970s, Ms. Finlay noted. “From the start, there was a public demand for the Ombudsman to be able to help people with these bodies. In the past 10 years, our Office had to turn away more than 12,000 complaints about municipalities and more than 450 about universities, and the demand has increased since Bill 8 was passed last December,” Ms. Finlay said. From the day the bill received royal assent (December 10, 2014) to today, the Ombudsman received 2,227 complaints about municipalities and 70 about universities.
The Office has also handled 246 complaints about school boards since assuming that responsibility on September 1; most have been resolved without formal investigation.
Ombudsmen in several other Canadian jurisdictions already have oversight in these areas. Six other ombudsmen can already investigate municipalities (in B.C., Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Yukon and, recently, Saskatchewan); those in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Yukon, B.C. and Newfoundland and Labrador can investigate school boards, and the latter two also have oversight of universities.
In Ontario, the Ombudsman’s only prior jurisdiction in municipalities was to enforce the open meeting requirements in the Municipal Act by investigating complaints about closed meetings – except in municipalities that chose to appoint their own investigator. (This system remains in place after January 1.) The Ontario Ombudsman has also always had oversight of the province’s colleges of applied arts and technology, but not universities.
The Ombudsman is an independent Office of the Ontario legislature. Although the Ombudsman’s recommendations are not binding, almost all have been accepted by government over the past decade, resulting in major systemic reforms to everything from newborn screening to lottery security to monitoring of unlicensed daycares.
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