In the past if a Toronto resident had a problem with a city service that just wasn’t getting resolved, that resident was out of luck. This is no longer the case. On Monday, the Office of the Ombudsman officially opened.
Toronto City Council appointed Fiona Crean as the city’s first ombudsman last November for a five-year term. Crean says her role is to investigate complaints regarding the administration of government.
“Municipal government is not like any other level of government,” she says. “It’s in people’s lives that much more. It’s shovelling your snow, it’s taking care of your roads.”
Following in Montreal’s footsteps, Toronto is just the second city in Canada to have its own ombudsman. Johanne Savard has been Montreal’s ombudsman since 2003 and was on the selection committee that chose Crean as Toronto’s first ombudsman.
Savard said that the experience in Montreal has been positive but, as with any startup, she notes that one of Crean’s challenges will be letting Toronto residents know that the office exists to help them.
The Ombudsman’s office has already received 103 complaints and as of yesterday afternoon, had resolved 33. Crean said these grievances run the gamut.
“So far complaints range from ‘my garbage bin has been broken,’ to allegations of improper contract letting,” she said. “It’s everything relating to residents and their local governments.”
Crean says that most complaints are going to be resolved early and informally.
“That’s really all about shuttle diplomacy and finding out what happened.”
Savard says that in resolving a complaint, the result should be fair. Crean agrees.
“This office is neither an advocate for complaints, nor an apologist for the city,” Crean said. “We’re a place of last resort. You have to complain about the department first and if you’re not satisfied then you can come to the ombudsman’s office.”
Crean brings to the office 11 years of experience as executive director at the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office as well as serving as York University’s ombudsman.
She says that her problem solving techniques don’t vary at all from one body to another. The way she will approach conflicts differs, but it’s still a matter of two people who have a problem.
Once Crean reaches a probable solution, it is not her job to implement it.
“Any ombudsman worth his or her salt will tell you they only want recommendation power,” Crean says. “My job is not to govern; my job is to assist the city council to govern. I don’t do the bureaucrat’s job.”
Filed by Meghan Housley