First week in the Ombudsman’s office and I feel more lost in the labyrinth of our parliamentary system but more proud to be Canadian where such an organization exists. At a first glance, the Ontario watchdog’s role seems simple enough to grasp; it is an independent office that ensures the government works in the best interests of its citizens. But contrary to my previous view, it does much more than whistle-blowing.
What I quickly learned is that its impartial role doesn’t only refer to non-partisanship but also its neutrality between the public and the government. In other words, not necessarily an advocate of the public nor an adversary of the government. Instead, the office helps people navigate our government system, clarify issues and sometimes even broker settlements using fair and sound judgment. But navigating our government system alone can be a hefty task. Not only are issues often complex, but their jurisdictional ambiguities in light of legislations or policies can be hard to clarify. While exploring this complexity, I was taken aback by the number and type of government organizations, agencies, and programs that exist to cater to public’s different needs. And to take it a step further, we can even hold them accountable through an independent office like the Ombudsman’s office.
What’s perhaps the most plain to see in this open-concept and transparent office is that there is no Question Period theatre here. Each officer manages individual complaints through a case-by-case method with resolution as its ultimate goal. But if complaints received are part of a broad systemic issue, we see collaboration and team-work amongst staff members. I especially enjoy observing this dual emphasis on independence and collaboration because, simply put, it seems to be getting things done.