Ombudsman’s office deals with 3,014 complaints (North Bay Nugget)

July 28, 2020

28 July 2020

North Bay, West Nipissing tied at 13

The Ontario Ombudsman’s Office received more than a dozen complaints each involving the City of North Bay and Municipality of West Nipissing last year.

Michael Lee
This link opens in a new tabNorth Bay Nugget
July 28, 2020

The Ontario Ombudsman’s Office received more than a dozen complaints each involving the City of North Bay and Municipality of West Nipissing last year.

Ombudsman Paul Dubé, who is responsible for investigating complaints involving public-sector bodies within his jurisdiction, handled 13 complaints about each municipality between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020.

The numbers were provided in the ombudsman’s 2020 annual report, which shows his office received 3,014 complaints in 2019-20 involving more than 300 of the province’s 444 municipalities and 35 shared corporations and local boards, a slight increase from the 3,002 complaints made the year prior.

Altogether, the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario handled 26,423 cases last year.

The Top 5 municipalities by case volume in Ontario were Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Peel and London.

The ombudsman’s report did not break down the exact nature of the cases involving North Bay and West Nipissing.

However, it did cite two local matters in his report, including complaints made about a “chaotic” meeting of West Nipissing council and an investigation into the decision by the Near North District School Board to close Widdifield Secondary School.

After receiving three complaints, the ombudsman determined a West Nipissing council meeting, a portion of which was closed to the public, held in March 2019 was illegal.

Although the closed portion had been arranged to discuss “personal matters,” namely the Municipal Act and the roles and responsibilities of council, the ombudsman found the discussion did not fit within any of the exceptions allowed for closed meetings.

“Witnesses described the heated arguments that soon followed — which touched on the relationship between council and staff — as ‘toxic,’ disrespectful and ‘intense,’” Dubé’s annual report said.

Dubé also explained “that the mere fact that a topic is sensitive does not mean it can be discussed in closed session, and he cautioned that in future, council should ensure that its business is carried out in an efficient and effective manner.”

A number of recommendations were provided to the municipality as a result.

Another investigation by the Ontario ombudsman, titled Lessons Not Learned, involved the Near North District School Board’s “disturbing lack of transparency” and undermining of the public’s trust over a controversial decision to close Widdifield after a pupil accommodation review process in 2017, one of the last done in the province before the Ontario government put in place a moratorium on school closures.

“The ombudsman found the board had failed to follow a rigorous and transparent process, despite being advised to do so in a similar situation in 2013,” the annual report said.

“He revealed that trustees considered information about the schools being proposed for closure at a closed-door ‘trustee workshop’ meeting in July 2017 without any notice to the public, and without ever reporting publicly on what was discussed.”

The ombudsman provided 14 recommendations, including that trustees hold another vote and give the public a chance to comment.

The board accepted the recommendations and held a new vote in September 2019.

The ombudsman says as of May 2020, the board has put in place four of his recommendations, while the rest are in progress.

Two advisers assigned by the Ministry of Education also provided a report with 30 recommendations earlier this year for the school board.

The ombudsman received a total of 10 cases last year involving the Near North District School Board.

Overall, the number of complaints made about school boards and school authorities declined to 732 from 873 in 2018-19 and 871 in 2017-18.

The ombudsman also cited a case where the mayor of the Municipality of Temagami met with newly elected councillors before they took their oath of office.

Although the ombudsman found the gatherings were not meetings, he cautioned that the practice does not foster transparency.

Other complaints made:

  • Township of Bonfield — 2

  • Municipality of Callander — 7

  • Municipality of Calvin — 1

  • Township of Chisholm — 6

  • Municipality of East Ferris — 1

  • City of Greater Sudbury — 59

  • Township of Papineau-Cameron — 2

  • Municipality of Powassan — 2

  • City of Sault Ste. Marie — 15

  • Municipality of Temagami — 8

  • City of Temiskaming Shores — 1

  • City of Timmins — 9

  • District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board — 2

  • Children’s Aid Society of the District of Nipissing and Parry Sound — 31

  • Canadore College — 3

  • Nipissing University — 4