Wednesday, 05 June 2013 15:45

Alta. Ombudsman all about fair dealings with the public

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Public meetings in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge gave residents a chance to learn more about Alberta’s Ombudsman, his role and to speak with investigators face to face if they had concerns about being treated fairly by government departments.


Staff from the Ombudsman office also made presentations to some schools as part of the visit to Medicine Hat May 29 and Lethbridge May 30.
“We want to get out and provide some awareness about our office,” said Alberta’s Ombudsman Peter Hourihan.
He told the small crowd in Medicine Hat that he is an independent officer of the Legislature and although the government pays the wages for the Ombudsman and his office, Hourihan reports to the Legislated Assembly as a whole.
Hourihan started in his role in October of 2011 and is finished in October 2016. He worked as an RCMP officer for 35 years with his last position being as commanding officer in B.C.
As of June 1, Hourihan also fills a new role as the public commissioner for whistleblowing legislation.
It is the Ombudsman Act which gives Hourihan his authority.
“I look into situations where people have been or feel like they have been treated unfairly by the provincial government,” he explained.
While he has jurisdiction over 400 different entities, he has no power over privatized services.
“I’m a third-party reviewer of last resort.”
The Ombudsman has no decision-making power, but can make recommendations for changes. Those recommendations can be rejected or accepted. The Ombudsman only has the powers of persuasion or publicity at his disposal.
“Most government employees try to go to work and do a good job, it just doesn’t always work out,” he adds.
“I’m not an advocate. I don’t work on behalf of government nor am I an advocate for an individual. I am an advocate for fairness … I can fight for a person to be treated fairly if I’ve found (they were not).”
The Ombudsman can’t investigate MLAs or government ministers or anything that has been or is being decided by the courts. If for example, a person is upset at only receiving a portion of compensation from Worker’s Comp, Hourihan won’t decide whether that person should receive more or less, but instead whether decision makers followed the right protocol and treated the individual fairly.
From April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013, the Ombudsman’s office dealt with 3,361 telephone inquiries and 908 written complaints. Of those 908, 171 formal investigations were launched.
For about 700 of those complaints, the person hadn’t exhausted all avenues at a department or jurisdictional level. The Ombudsman office is happy to help those people with the process.
There are guidelines the Ombudsman uses when deciding on fairness. They include did the group have the authority to make the decisions it did; were certain procedures followed in coming to a decision; did the individual have the chance to participate to the same level as the other parties involved; that what was promised was given or done; was the decision reasonable and if denied, did the individual receive adequate reasons for that denial.
The Alberta Ombudsman can be reached online at: http://www.ombudsman.ab.ca  or by phoning toll-free 1-888-455-2756.

Read 1241 times Last modified on Wednesday, 05 June 2013 15:46
Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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