Ombudsperson kept busy during Northwest tour

BC’s Ombudsperson was kept “quite busy” during a tour of Northwest communities earlier this month.

“What we saw during the week was pretty typical of what we see everywhere in the province,” B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke said. “We don’t get out to some parts of the province as often as we’d like, so it was good to have that chance to visit [the Northwest] and hear what people had to say.”

Chalk visited Terrace, Kitimat, Smithers, Prince Rupert and Hazelton between Oct. 1 and 5. Many concerns related to major government ministries, notably the ministry of social development and poverty reduction, and ministry of children and family development. Other public bodies also at the brunt of citizens’ concern were Northern Health, ICBC, Worksafe BC and BC Hydro.

Chalke is prohibited from discussing either details of the of the complaints. While he also could not divulge how many people he met with in any given community, he said “we were quite busy, and I can say we had complainants in every town we were in.

“And that’s great, in that we want people to be aware of what we’re doing and have that chance to come to us whether or not their discussion with us results in an investigation, and whether that investigation results in a finding that a public body acted unfairly.”

The Office of the Ombudsperson is an independent office of the B.C. legislature that receives complaints and inquiries about the practices and services of public agencies within its jurisdiction. The Ombudsperson’s role is to determine whether public agencies are acting fairly and reasonably and whether their actions and decisions are consistent with legislation, policies and procedures.

An annual report released earlier this year by the office shows complaints in the province are at a 10-year high.

The office received 8,400 complaints and inquiries last year on a wide range of public bodies. As found during Chalk’s Northwest tour, the highest number of complaints province wide related to two government ministries that provide service to vulnerable people; the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

“Their complaint numbers have been coming down and that is good news, but their overall volume remains high,” said Chalke. “It is time for the ministry’s fairness issues to be addressed as part of government’s broader poverty reduction strategy being developed this year.”

In addition to its investigative work, this past year the Ombudsperson also launched a new three-year initiative to help public bodies proactively make their services more fair. “Increasingly, public bodies are recognizing the importance of trying to resolve fairness problems before they escalate and our office is here to help them proactively do that,” said Chalke. “After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Key statistical highlights from the 2017/18 Annual Report include:

  • 376 complaints came from health authorities, the top non-ministry complaint category. Among the health authorities, Island Health had the most complaints (89)
  • Other top non-ministry complaints include those about ICBC (325), the Workers’ Compensation Board (182) and BC Hydro (155)
  • The Office received 680 complaints about local governments. The top three areas of complaints related to bylaw enforcement, developing/zoning and municipal fees and charges
  • Most complaints (1940) came from the Lower Mainland

View the Office of the Ombudsperson’s 2017/18 Annual Report at www.bcombudsperson.ca

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