Bill 8: How to submit complaints about your municipality to the Ontario Ombudsman
PAUL DUBÉ - OMBUDSMAN
WHAT IS BILL 8?
This legislation makes historic changes to the Ombudsman’s mandate, allowing the Office of the Ombudsman to help more Ontarians. It expands the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to municipalities, universities and school boards. The public can file complaints about school boards as of September 1, 2015 and municipalities and universities as of January 1, 2016.
As a resident of the Town of Deep River, you may submit a formal complaint by phone at (613) 584-2000 extension 126 or by visiting Town Hall at 100 Deep River Road and asking to speak with the Chief Administrative Officer. You can also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You will be asked to submit your complaint in writing in your own words. Complaints that may not be resolved by administrative staff will be referred to Council.
What is the Ombudsman's new mandate as a result of the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014 (also known as Bill 8)?
As a result of legislative changes, the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman will now oversee Ontario’s 444 municipalities, 82 school boards, and 21 universities.
The Ombudsman will have the authority to investigate complaints about Ontario’s municipalities including about municipal councils, local boards and municipally-controlled corporations, with some exemptions. The Ombudsman will also be able to investigate complaints about school boards including, but not limited to, handling complaints about individual schools, policies, procedures and facilities. Additionally, any university that receives regular and direct government funding will now fall within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
Who can complain to the Office of the Ombudsman?
Anyone who has a concern about a municipality, university or school board can complain, including residents, students, staff, parents, and family members. Under the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman has discretion not to investigate a complaint from someone who is not personally involved in the matter, but this is based on the circumstances of each individual case. The Ombudsman can also launch an investigation on his/her own motion.
How will oversight work?
People will be able to submit a complaint about municipalities, universities, and school boards the same way they submit a complaints about the 500 provincial government agencies the Ombudsman oversees now. Once the Ombudsman's Office receives a complaint – via phone, mobile app, email, web form, or in person – the Ombudsman's Office will assess the issue to determine if they can assist. They may provide appropriate referrals – including back to local oversight mechanisms – or they may be able to take action on the file to resolve the problem. The Ombudsman looks at each complaint individually.
What do I need to do, if anything, before complaining to the Ombudsman?
The Ombudsman is an office of last resort. This means that you first need to contact your municipality, school board or university and access any available complaint mechanisms or appeals before the Ombudsman can deal with your complaint. If you have a question about the complaint mechanisms available to you, you can call the Office of the Ombudsman at 1-800-263-1830, TTY (teletypewriter): 1-866-411-4211 or by Email at email@example.com. When you submit a complaint to the Ombudsman, you will be asked to provide any documentation, correspondence or other information that you have gathered which may be relevant to your complaint.
Does the Ombudsman replace local complaint mechanisms?
Our Office will not replace any local integrity commissioner, ombudsman, or other office that deals with complaints, but we can review decisions of those bodies to ensure the appropriate policies and procedures were followed. The Ombudsman encourages municipalities, universities and school boards to create or reinforce local ombudsman or other complaint mechanisms and accountability offices. If you have not already raised your complaint with a local complaint mechanism, we will refer you back to that office. Under the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman functions as an office of last resort.
What kind of municipal issues will the Ombudsman be able to investigate?
The Ombudsman will be able to investigate complaints about the administrative conduct of municipalities, including complaints about council members, local boards, and municipally-controlled corporations (with some exceptions). Issues the Ombudsman could look at (after local complaint mechanisms have failed to resolve the matter) include: conflict of interest, customer service provided by city staff, complaints about municipally-owned utilities, garbage collection, snow removal, or other municipal services. If you don’t know if your complaint falls within the Office’s jurisdiction, please contact Office of the Ombudsman and a staff member will advise you.
Can the Ombudsman refuse to investigate my complaint?
Yes. The Ombudsman has broad discretion not to investigate a complaint. The Ombudsman may consider, among other factors, the age of the complaint, if the complainant has sufficient personal interest in the subject matter, whether or not there is an alternative remedy for the complaint, if the complaint is considered frivolous or vexatious or if the matter involves a broader public policy issue. Each complaint is assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine if an investigation is warranted.
If I make a complaint to the Ombudsman, will my identity be disclosed?
Under the Ombudsman Act, all complaints, including the identity of the complainant, are confidential and investigations are conducted in private. However, depending on the nature of the complaint, it may be necessary for a person to consent to being identified to the applicable government organization so that their complaint can be thoroughly reviewed and investigated. In cases involving municipal closed meetings, given that the Ombudsman's role is limited to ensuring municipal councils and committees comply with the open meeting provisions of the Municipal Act, the identity of the complainant is not normally relevant and not normally disclosed.
Does the municipality, university or school board have to cooperate with the Ombudsman’s investigation?
Yes, all municipalities, universities and school boards will be required under the Ombudsman Act to co-operate fully with the Ombudsman’s office when responding to a complaint. The Ombudsman has very robust investigative powers, including the authority to issue summonses, require evidence under oath, and inspect premises. It is an offence under the Ombudsman Act to mislead the Ombudsman or to obstruct an Ombudsman investigation.
Will municipalities, universities and school boards have to accept the Ombudsman's recommendations?
The Ombudsman recommends solutions to fix problems of maladministration. She/he cannot overturn decisions made by municipalities, school boards or universities. Organizations don’t have to act on the Ombudsman’s recommendations, but historically, almost all of our recommendations have been accepted. We usually publish the results of major investigations and ask that the affected organization report back regularly on its progress, and monitor complaint trends closely. The Ombudsman can reopen an investigation if necessary.