Getting to know Ontario’s watchdog

Since starting OLIP, we’ve been making our rounds through Ontario’s independent officers of the legislature.

Recently, we had the pleasure of meeting with Ontario’s acting ombudsman, Barbara Finlay. In case you’re immediately wondering why we don’t call her an ombudswoman, it has to do entirely with the history of the office; the word “ombudsman” is a gender-neutral Swedish word and is used universally for both men and women holding the office. This fun fact was part of the presentation Ms. Finlay shared with us on the history of this institution.

 

Julia_ombudsman

As acting ombudsman, Ms. Finlay took over the office in September, which is no easy task. The Ombudsman’s office is responsible for overseeing more than 500 ministries, government agencies, and boards, according to the Ombudsman Act of Ontario. Not only that, but the office is currently working on an expansion in jurisdiction that gives them new oversight over school boards, municipal meetings, and publicly funded universities.

We learned some important distinctions about the office of the ombudsman—that it’s not a court of appeal and can’t oversee judges, and that its jurisdiction doesn’t include provincial politicians. But the Ombudsman does have quite extensive powers to investigate issues—powers, Ms. Finlay assured us, that must be very carefully used.

And in investigating these issues, which range from Hydro One to lotteries in Ontario, just to name a couple, Ms. Finlay and her staff deal closely with the citizens who bring forward their complaints. It was heartening to hear her describe how the office “puts a human face on issues”; this was abundantly clear to us when she could identify by name several of the Ontarians who had taken up a fight that was later investigated by their office.

This work taken on by the Ombudsman has been going on for a long time in Ontario. They (like us) are celebrating 40 years of existence! Thank you to Ms. Finlay and the entire office for welcoming us and telling us so much about how the organization works.

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