Smithers residents were given the opportunity to address the Ombudspeople last week as they made the trek from Victoria to meet residents in northwest B.C.
The Office of the Ombudsperson has the unique role of acting as a “watchdog” when it comes to ministries, crown corporations, local governments and health authorities. The office has been in B.C. since 1979 and is based in Victoria, however they do like to go out to the rural areas in B.C. to give those residents a chance to speak one-on-one with a staff person, Ombudsperson Kim Carter said.
“Three times a year we go out into the province and do what we like to call an Ombudsperson tour,” Carter said.
Last year, that brought them to coastal B.C. communities such as Masset and Prince Rupert. This time around, they’re extending that tour from Smithers through to Vanderhoof.
“We like to go out to communities because some people really want to sit down with you … and it also gives us a better idea of what the issues are and what the concerns are in different parts of the province,” Carter said.
Due to confidentiality, Carter couldn’t say what issues were being brought up in particular, however in the day they spent in Houston they not only met with residents who had scheduled an appointment but also met with service agencies around town.
“The way we set it up is for people to come in and we give them enough time to sit down with one of our staff, go through what their concerns are and give us the information that they think is important,” Carter said.
Types of issues they hear about revolve around provincial ministries. For this region, mostly it’s around the Ministry of Children and Family Development, Ministry of Social Development and Income Assistance and Ministry of Forests and Lands where concerns are recurrent.
Concerns heard during this tour are all taken seriously, and if it’s within the Ombudsperson’s jurisdiction that they feel there has been some unfairness they’ll investigate the issue further. In order to be considered by the office, the concern must relate to a personal experience, Carter clarified.
“The focus of our office is ensuring people are fairly treated by provincial public authorities,” Carter said.
So the office will be investigating whether the person was or was not treated unfairly. If it’s found that some mistakes were made they’ll work with finding a resolution. That can be a reconsideration of a fine, reimbursement, or an apology, depending on the scenario.
“There are a number of things that we can get as a resolution,” Carter said. “And part of our job is trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again, so if there’s a bad policy we will work in a consultative way to change the policy so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Quite often, a change in a policy is what people are looking for when they reach out to the office.
“For us, we’re there to make sure provincial authorities work well and to ensure that people in the province are satisfied that if they’ve not been treated fairly there’s somewhere they can go and we’ll have a look at that issue,” Carter said.
When they’re not on tour, they are still reachable by phone or mail. For anyone who would like to get ahold of the Office of the Ombudsperson, call 1-800-567-3247 or check out their website, www.bcombudsperson.ca.