Statement by the Ombudsman: Looking back on 2019 and ahead to 2020

December 30, 2019

30 December 2019

As we close 2019 and look ahead to a new decade, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the recent historic changes to the Ombudsman’s Office, and to discuss our priorities for 2020.

(TORONTO - December 31, 2019) As we close 2019 and look ahead to a new decade, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the recent historic changes to the Ombudsman’s Office, and to discuss our priorities for 2020.

In 2019, Ombudsman oversight was extended for the first time in Ontario’s history to child welfare and French language services. In adding these areas to our mandate, we have worked to combine our proven Ombudsman techniques of complaint resolution and investigation with the expertise of the staff who joined our team from the former offices of the Child Advocate and French Language Services Commissioner.

Across all units, we seek to promote fairness, transparency and excellent customer service – not only in the public sector bodies we oversee, but in our own work as well.

Over the past year, in both these new areas and in our work with provincial government bodies, municipalities, universities and school boards, we have also been able to ensure the rights of vulnerable people were respected, and their voices heard. The people we helped were struggling with administrative problems in all types of organizations, whether they were young people in care, Indigenous and transgender inmates in correctional facilities, families seeking help with developmental services for loved ones, or French-speaking Ontarians seeking public services in their language.

We also promoted democratic principles of transparency and accountability at the local level in more than a dozen investigations of municipal closed meetings, an in-depth investigation of a deeply unfair process for hiring a chief administrator in Niagara Region, and a review of a controversial school closure in North Bay. And we did all this while dealing with a 30% surge in complaints in fiscal 2018-2019 over the previous year.

It has a been a challenge, but also an enormous privilege, to lead this Office at such a key time – and to have the opportunity to extend Ombudsman services to areas where we may not yet be well known. In the coming year, as we continue to share stories about the improvements that our work has prompted in a wide spectrum of public services, our goal is to help Ontarians in even more communities and walks of life, including in Northern and Indigenous communities.

As I noted in my Annual Report in June, I have made it a priority to reach out to Indigenous leaders and community members in an effort to assess the relationship between provincial institutions and Indigenous people and determine what role my Office can play in reconciliation. We will continue seeking input and dialogue in 2020. In the past two months, I had the opportunity to speak to the Indigenous Child and Family Well-Being Conference on Rama First Nation, as well as to meet Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler in Thunder Bay. I look forward to learning more through future discussions as my Office develops our Indigenous Action Plan.

We will continue to focus on helping Ontarians who have nowhere else to turn, who need our expertise in rooting out systemic problems in government administration, navigating complex and unfair bureaucracies, and making public services work better.

Of course, none of this can happen without the hard work of our passionate and committed staff. I am endlessly grateful for and inspired by the drive and the passion of our team, particularly after such an eventful year.

On that note, I also want to recognize the work of one key member of that team, Gareth Jones, the founding director of our Special Ombudsman Response Team, which has led all of our systemic investigations since 2005 – who is retiring in January 2020. Gareth’s extensive experience in investigations and dealing with bureaucracy helped this Office gain its international reputation for excellence. His knowledge, strategic thinking, and leadership style earned him the respect and credibility he enjoys with our team and around the world. We will launch a search soon to fill his sizable gumshoes.

Last but certainly not least, I know there is much public interest in our recruitment of a new French Language Services Commissioner, who will lead our French Language Services Unit and promote the linguistic rights of franco-Ontarians. Our process is very nearly complete, and I look forward to announcing the new Commissioner’s appointment in January.

Paul Dubé
Ombudsman of Ontario