A conversation with Paul Dubé, Ontario’s new ombudsman​ (QP Briefing)

A conversation with Paul Dubé, Ontario’s new ombudsman​ (QP Briefing)

April 1, 2016

1 April 2016

Dubé emphasizes his collaborative style and focus on building trust and credibility with public agencies - and also confirms he won't be quite the presence on Twitter that his predecessor was.

Brian Platt
QP Briefing (posted with permission)
April 1, 2016

Dubé emphasizes his collaborative style and focus on building trust and credibility with public agencies - and also confirms he won't be quite the presence on Twitter that his predecessor was.

After a long and controversial process to appoint a new Ontario ombudsman, Paul Dubéofficially stepped into the role on Friday.

There's no doubt the measured temperament of Dubé will be a change of pace from the volatile reign of André Marin, and Dubé made it clear in an interview that his style will be much more collaborative than what came before.

Dubé also confirmed he won't be tweeting personal views from the Ombudsman account, as Marin became so infamous for doing.

But he pointed out they have similar backgrounds in practicing criminal law, and both served as the inaugural ombudsman for federal agencies (Marin for the Canadian military, Dubé for the Canada Revenue Agency and taxpayers in general).

To see more on Dubé's background, see our previous story or his official biography. Below is our conversation with him on his first day on the job.

So, how's it going so far? And what are the first items on your agenda?

I'm really honoured to have the privilege to serve the people of Ontario as ombudsman, and one of the best parts of it is joining such a dynamic team. I've long had a lot of admiration and respect for the work coming out of this office and the standards of this office. To be a part of this team now is quite an honour.

In terms of what's on the agenda, it's really to build on the legacy that is already here and to maintain the work that's been done. We now have new jurisdiction, so it's a really exciting time to be joining the office, with a new mandate to provide oversight to school boards, municipalities and universities.

Is it particularly difficult to come into this job at a time when the office's oversight has just massively expanded?

I don't think so at all. It might be, potentially, but there's such a wealth of skill here. Kudos to the acting ombudsman Barbara Finlay, I don't think the office has skipped a beat during the transition period. The planning and the roll-out for this expansion, it's all going along very well.

And in terms of the learning curve, it's not that steep. This is very similar to what I was doing in Ottawa. The role of the ombudsman is to be independent and provide oversight and give constructive feedback, it's pretty much the same.

Do you have a vision for how the office should operate with you at the helm?

Every individual has their own style, so there will be differences, and I'll leave it up to observers or commentators to make comparisons. But one of my priorities is to build relationships. I think to be an effective ombudsman, you have to have good relationships with stakeholders, you have to have trust and credibility. They have to understand that when you come to their organization to look into things, that they're going to get a fair shake.

The object of an ombudsman is not to walk in and name, blame and shame an organization. It's to help it function better and to serve the people of Ontario better.

What experience from your past jobs will be most useful to you in this one?

I have a very similar background to my predecessor: a criminal law background, the first ombudsman in Ottawa in a new federal agency, and then becoming Ontario ombudsman. And what you get from practicing law, and especially criminal law, is a respect for people's rights, individual rights, civil rights. Wanting to stand up for the little guy, which is what I did in my criminal law practice, quite often defending the Charter rights of the economically disadvantaged. I feel like everything I've ever done has prepared me well for this job and this challenge.

What are the major files on your desk right now?

I'm still being briefed, but we've got a couple of investigations that are further along. I"m not ready to make any big announcements today, but a couple of files such as looking into the resources provided to adults with disabilities is one, and the other is the training and de-escalation protocols for police.

Marin became well-known for ensuring the office's investigations had maximum impact in the media. How do you want the media to receive your work?

I want them to receive them enthusiastically. A quiet ombudsman or an invisible ombudsman is not an effective ombudsman. We have to raise awareness about the work being done on a number of fronts.

We don't have the power to order anyone to do anything, so it is that publicity, it is that force of moral suasion that gets things changed.

How do you get concrete results when moral suasion is your main tool?

The first step is to build trust and credibility with stakeholders. When you give a fair shake to entities, let them be heard, provide them an opportunity to give their point of view, you build trust and credibility. And then your recommendations are more likely to be accepted.

My approach is quite collaborative and I think it's been fairly successful in the past. As taxpayers ombudsman, I didn't have the legislative authority that I do now, it was pretty much just an order-in-council. And yet all my recommendations were accepted. That was through relationship-building, collaboration, moral suasion and publicity.

Marin also, of course, was notorious for his use of social media. Do you use Twitter?

I don't. I'm a firm believer in social media, I think it can be an effective tool. I launched a Twitter account as taxpayers ombudsman, but it was the communications team that ran it. That's the way I'll do it here. The tweets will be about the organization, it won't be my personal twitter account.

What's the measure of success you have for this five-year term?

The main metric of success is that Ontario is a better place to live and work. A lot of the irritants between government administration and the citizens have been resolved and removed, the lines of communication are open between stakeholders and the Ontario ombudsman office and we have a pathway to power that makes things better.