Extending oversight makes sense

This past week, our province’s Ombudsman released his annual report.
Established in 1975, the Ombudsman is an independent officer of the legislature whose job is to investigate complaints against government services.
Dealing with more than 18,000 complaints a year, our current Ombudsman, Andre Marin, is one of the most respected civil servants in this province. And it is for that reason that when he speaks out about an issue, politicians on all sides generally take note.
His annual reports not only are insightful, but offer a very important look into how the government is accomplishing—or falling short of—their goals, in addition to pointing out problems with government services and programs before they become crises.
While widely respected by all sides, one failing of the Ombudsman’s office is that there are certain programs and services that he does not currently have the ability to review.
Popularly known as the “MUSH” sector, the Ombudsman’s office does not currently have the power to review decisions of municipalities (although his office recently has been granted power to look into closed-door meetings), universities, school boards, hospital and long-term care homes, Children’s Aid Societies, and police.
While most of these organizations have their own boards (some elected, some appointed), it does not mean they are immune to mistakes in judgement. And for that reason, Mr. Marin has been pushing for his oversight to be extended to cover these organizations.
As Mr. Marin noted in his report, the failure to provide him with the power to review these cases has forced him to turn away 2,541 complaints in the last year alone—more than 10 percent of the individuals who have approached his office looking for help.
While that alone is a significant number, it’s important to note that that’s just the individuals who were turned away, which could be far fewer than those actually experiencing problems.
Locally, I know there is strong support for such an initiative. Since being elected, I have received more e-mails, letters, petitions, and phone calls regarding Ombudsman oversight for Children’s Aid Societies than any other issue.
At the same time, I have helped many across our region who have been frustrated by decisions made by municipalities, school, and hospital boards. While these organizations have their own elected officials, their decisions often receive less scrutiny than those made at the provincial and federal level.
Many of the problems people experience with these organizations are highly-localized and often affect a limited number of people, albeit with a significant impact.
At the same time, Ombudsman oversight of these organizations has the potential to shed the light on provincial funding shortfalls, or legislation that is imposed on these boards that does not fit northern realities.
It is for these reasons that I strongly support Mr. Marin’s push, and was pleased to support private members’ bills and other initiatives that sought this much-needed coverage.