TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - December 29, 2016) - As the new year approaches, the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman is set to mark one year of oversight of municipalities and universities. Since the historic new jurisdiction took effect Jan. 1, the office has received some 3,191 public complaints and inquiries about municipalities, and 232 about universities.
"In the first year of our oversight of municipalities and universities, we have worked to build productive and collaborative relationships with stakeholders, which has helped us to resolve many difficult issues without formal investigation," said Ombudsman Paul Dubé. "We have been able to help thousands of people by providing the information they need or by making informal inquiries about their issues, just as we do in our oversight of provincial government bodies."
The Ombudsman's jurisdiction over Ontario's 444 municipalities and 21 publicly funded universities came into effect January 1, 2016, thanks to Bill 8, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act (which also extended the Ombudsman's mandate to school boards as of September 1, 2015). Almost all municipal and university cases received to date -- close to 90% -- have been resolved and closed. The Ombudsman has only launched one systemic investigation in this area, related to procurement practices at the City of Brampton (the investigation is in the final stages).
More than one-third of cases were resolved by Ombudsman staff providing referrals to the appropriate officials. The Ombudsman is an office of last resort that seeks to resolve issues at the local level wherever possible, and recommends all municipalities and universities have clear internal complaint procedures.
Councils and committees were by far the most common topic of municipal complaints, representing approximately 22% of cases. In several cases, municipal officials improved their practices when alerted to issues by Ombudsman staff -- for example, considering adopting a code of conduct or publicly clarifying complaint procedures. Other common complaint topics were bylaw enforcement, hydro and electricity, Ontario Works, and housing.
The most common university complaint topics were academic appeals, fees, conduct, and employee issues. These complaint themes are similar to those the Ombudsman routinely hears about colleges, which have always been within the office's jurisdiction. Cases are referred to the university's own ombudsmen, where they exist, or to internal appeal mechanisms wherever possible.
To explain the Ombudsman's new mandate and build positive working relationships with municipal and university stakeholders, Mr. Dubé and other senior staff have conducted extensive outreach in the past year, including meeting with university ombudsmen, registrars, and student associations, attending numerous municipal conferences and meeting with representatives from individual municipalities and universities.
More information about municipal and university cases to date, including a breakdown by organization, can be found in the Ombudsman's latest Annual Report, released last month; the 2016-2017 report will be released in June 2017.
Complaints to the Ombudsman about municipalities or universities can be filed online at www.ombudsman.on.ca, by phone (1-800-263-1830) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
An independent office of the Ontario legislature, the Ombudsman receives more than 20,000 public complaints per year, and resolves and investigates individual and systemic issues relating to more than 1,000 public sector entities, including provincial government bodies, municipalities, universities and school boards. Although the Ombudsman's recommendations are not binding, almost all have been accepted by government over the past decade, resulting in major systemic reforms.
Watch Ombudsman Paul Dubé's speech to Ontario East Municipal Conference: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Resources/Speeches/2016/All-you-need-to-know-if-the-Ombudsman-calls.aspx
Read Ombudsman Paul Dubé's speech to L'Association française des municipalités de l'Ontario (September 21) [French]: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Resources/Speeches/2016/Ombudsman-Oversight-of-Municipalities--What-to-exp.aspx?lang=fr-CA
View the webinar, "What to expect when the Ombudsman calls" (municipalities) [English only; a French version is coming soon]: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Resources/Video-Resources.aspx?lang=en-CA
FAQ - Municipal complaints: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/About-Us/Who-We-Oversee/Municipalities.aspx
FAQ - University complaints: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/About-Us/Who-We-Oversee/Universities.aspx
Subscribe to the Ombudsman's monthly e-newsletter: https://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Newsroom/E-Newsletter.aspx