Ombudsman Ontario

Ombudsman Ontario

June 15, 2010 11:09 ET

Ombudsman Plays Key Role in Fairness, Good Governance in Tough Times: Annual Report 2009-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 15, 2010) - Ontario Ombudsman André Marin today released his fifth annual report, emphasizing his office's critical role in ensuring that even the most difficult government decisions are fair. 

"The Ombudsman can serve as a bulwark of democracy in troubled times, protecting citizens and helping government to improve in the face of a tough economy and fiscal constraint," says Mr. Marin, who was recently appointed to a second five-year term.

As it marks its 35th anniversary in Ontario, the ombudsman institution (first created in 1809 in Sweden) can serve as "an unbiased overseer to listen to all sides, investigate thoroughly and provide balanced advice and guidance," Mr. Marin says.

This year's report details how the Ombudsman's work in systemic investigations, individual case resolutions and proactive problem solving has helped thousands of Ontarians and contributed to better governance. 

One example is his special investigation into the funding of the cancer drug Avastin last fall – which resulted in the province lifting an arbitrary cap on payments for colorectal cancer patients who rely on the medication to prolong their lives. Another investigation was resolved when the province agreed to insure PET scans for certain cancer and cardiac indications, while others focused on the colleges and training sector, sparking reforms in the monitoring of private career colleges and the marketing of provincial colleges.

"It was my vision upon assuming office to return the Ombudsman institution in Ontario to its Swedish parliamentary roots – focusing on fighting administrative injustice and shaping good, sound public policy," Mr. Marin says in the report. In his next term, he plans to build upon the office's success in all of these areas, including the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT) investigations that led to major changes in such areas as newborn screening, property assessment and the province's lottery system.

Mr. Marin stresses that "the great untold story" of his Office is its proactive work with government and many of its most complained-about agencies. "These aren't necessarily the high-profile cases that get a lot of press," he said. "This is about diligent, behind-the-scenes work with senior managers in government to fix problems before they fester and grow." Ombudsman staff triage complaints so the most urgent cases are dealt with quickly and potential systemic problems are nipped in the bud. 

Among issues dealt with proactively this past year were complaints of violence against inmates in provincial jails and complaints about the Family Responsibility Office mishandling spousal support payments. As well, the office helped 39 families obtain appropriate care and treatment for their severely disabled children, many of whom were so desperate that they considered giving up custody to get the care they needed – a problem originally tackled in the Ombudsman's first SORT investigation in 2005.

The bulk of the Ombudsman's work involves helping individuals, and this year's report features numerous stories of how the office helped fix bureaucratic errors and cut through red tape, from speeding up government cheques to securing health insurance coverage to fighting unjustified Hydro One charges.

Since 2008, the Ombudsman has also been the investigator for complaints about closed meetings in municipalities. The bulk of these have also been successfully resolved through informal intervention, as the Ombudsman has focused on encouraging best practices for municipalities to follow when they close their meetings to the public.

The Ombudsman's Office investigates public complaints about some 500 Ontario government ministries, corporations, agencies, boards and commissions. It does not, however, have jurisdiction over the "MUSH" sector – municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals and long-term care homes, child protection services and police – as most other provincial ombudsmen do. As in previous years, Mr. Marin's report tallies the 1,523 MUSH sector complaints his office was forced to turn away in 2009-2010.

Since April 1, 2005, the Ontario Ombudsman's office has completed 21 special investigations, handled more than 90,000 complaints, and has consistently come in under its $10-million annual budget, returning $347,000 to taxpayers over five years. The SORT model is now emulated by ombudsmen and administrative investigators across Canada and around the world, and the office was recently described in a book on ombudsmen as being "in many ways a beacon for the rest of the country."

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Full report, backgrounders and more available at www.ombudsman.on.ca

Video of Mr. Marin's news conference will also be posted at www.youtube.com/OntarioOmbudsman

Mr. Marin will answer public questions this afternoon at www.twitter.com/Ont_Ombudsman

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