Ombudsman Ontario

Ombudsman Ontario

June 23, 2009 11:00 ET

Ontario Ombudsman Provides Value, Good Governance in Hard Times. Annual Report 2008-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 23, 2009) - In releasing his fourth annual report today, Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin demonstrates how his office "delivers big value on a small budget," through efficient, hard-hitting investigations that help make government better.

"At times like these, the value of public services comes into sharp focus," Mr. Marin says in the report, which reviews his office's latest investigations and the 16,742 complaints and inquiries received in the past year. "That value must be ensured, not just in terms of how much taxpayers get for their money, but in the quality and effectiveness of the services they receive."

Mr. Marin's Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT), created when he began his five-year appointment in 2005, has had an enormous impact on government policy, he notes, citing such recent cases as the probe of the Special Investigations Unit, as well as earlier investigations that improved newborn screening, the province's lotteries and the property assessment system. By resolving systemic problems that potentially affect millions of people, SORT's work helps save money, litigation, trauma and even lives.

"Compare a SORT investigation to a public inquiry," he says. "We can achieve so much more for so much less. We have helped make systems not only fairer and more effective, but leaner and cheaper by targeting waste, poor performance, duplication, delay and inefficiency." This represents an evolution of the Ombudsman's office from a "mere complaints department" to an "architect of good governance."

This year's report updates all of these cases, tracking the government's progress in implementing the Ombudsman's recommendations. Recurring problems - such as lax enforcement by the Family Responsibility Office or cases where parents of special-needs children are forced to surrender custody to obtain care for them - are constantly monitored and dealt with quickly. "Without question, our systemic SORT investigations have inspired dramatic improvement in the quality of governance that Ontarians are receiving," Mr. Marin says. "SORT is not a hit-and-run squad. We re-investigate to confirm the progress that is claimed, and we keep the pressure on." Other watchdog agencies across Canada and around the world are now using SORT's techniques and expertise to train investigators and conduct systemic probes, he notes.

At the same time, Ombudsman staff continue to resolve thousands of individual complaints, featured in the "Case Summaries" section of the report. Several people had money returned to them that had been wrongly taken by bureaucrats; in other cases, lost paperwork was found, bad rules were fixed and poor decisions were reversed.

Some 2,366 complaints to the Ombudsman had to be turned away, however, because they involved the MUSH sector: municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals and long-term care homes, children's aid societies, and police. Ontario continues to lag far behind other provinces in allowing Ombudsman oversight of these areas, which consume the bulk of government spending, Mr. Marin says. "These are areas where thrift, sensible government and good judgment are acutely required, yet the government of Ontario declines our help, and it is costing all of us. We are poised to help and remain hopeful that one day we will be able to do so."

In the one new area of his mandate - investigating closed municipal meetings - the results since January 2008 have been mixed, Mr. Marin reports. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about closed meetings in all municipalities that have not appointed another investigator (188 to date) - under amendments to the Municipal Act that he describes as "failed." While most municipalities have been eager to co-operate with investigations and embrace transparency, others have been openly defiant. They are free to choose a "lapdog" investigator if they wish, creating a "patchwork" system of enforcement. "There is no sense in this," he points out.

Always looking for new ways to engage Ontarians, Mr. Marin has launched the Ombudsman's Office into the sphere of social media. Video, audio and photos are now available to share at the "Media" section of the Ombudsman's website, where the public can also post comments and questions. Mr. Marin himself is on Twitter as Ont_Ombudsman, and will answer public questions on Twitter from 1-3 p.m. today. Public discussions and questions are encouraged on the Ontario Ombudsman Facebook page as well. Video from today's news conference will be available later today on the Ombudsman's website and YouTube channel.

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