Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube issued the department’s annual report for 2019. Unlike most government departmental reports, this report is very accessible—almost chatty in tone. The Provincial Ombudsman now has authority over municipalities and Children’s Aid Societies which has greatly increased its workload. In the case of municipalities, Hamilton came it at number three on the list in terms of number of complaints with 154.
Some excepts from the Ombudsman Report follow:
In 2019-2020, we received 3,014 complaints about 314 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities, and 35 shared corporations and local boards. This is consistent with 2018-2019, when we received 3,002 complaints about 333 municipalities and 36 shared corporations and local boards.
Most complaints were resolved effectively and efficiently, without need for a formal investigation. In fact, we have only conducted 6 formal municipal investigations since the Ombudsman gained oversight of municipalities in 2016. The Ombudsman issued a report on one of these cases this fiscal year – related to the Regional Municipality of Niagara (see details under Investigations) – but did not launch any new ones.
Like ombudsmen around the world, our Office is intended to be a last resort. Issues are best resolved at the local level wherever possible, and the Ombudsman recommends that every municipality have a complaints process that is available to the public. General municipal complaints focused on similar topics to previous years, such as councils and committees, by-law enforcement, housing and infrastructure.
We received 392 complaints about elected municipal officials and their decisions in 2019-2020, up from 278 the previous year. Many complainants disagreed with council decisions, or the conduct of elected officials. The Ombudsman’s focus is on administrative process and fairness, not the behaviour of individuals. Complaints about the conduct of municipal politicians fall within the jurisdiction of local integrity commissioners, which all municipalities are required to have in place – along with a code of conduct – as of March 1, 2019. As well, integrity commissioners now have the power to review complaints about alleged violations of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
Municipalities also have the option to appoint a local ombudsman, auditor general, and/or lobbyist registrar. We received 53 complaints about municipal integrity commissioners, 26 about municipal ombudsmen, and 5 about local auditors general.
Under the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman cannot review complaints within the jurisdiction of an integrity commissioner or other local accountability officer until they have declined the complaint or completed their review. At that stage, we can review complaints about the official’s process, including whether they acted fairly and within their authority, considered relevant information, and provided reasons for decisions.