NS Ombudsman Report 201111124

Dwight Bishop, Nova Scotia's ombudsman, talks with reporters. He said his office needs more staff to examine more cases. (The Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's ombudsman made a call Tuesday for more funding and staff, saying that would go a long way to help satisfy growing demands and public expectations of his office.

In releasing his annual report, Dwight Bishop said vulnerable people would be better served if his office's services were broadened.

Bishop said the need is greatest for oversight of programs helping youths, people who are new to the province and those trying to navigate the health system.

"From an oversight standpoint, are the expectations being met? Is there a better way of meeting it?" Bishop said at a news conference. "People expect a lot from the ombudsman's area."

He said evolving public concerns over government impropriety also highlight the need for a stronger ombudsman office.

A good starting point would be more money to bolster the office's overall budget of $1.7 million — the bulk of which is spent on salaries and office rent, he said.

He said the unit of his office that examines youth issues has a budget of $400,000, where similar units in Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick have budgets as high as $1.6 million or more.

He also compared staffing levels, saying New Brunswick's youth unit has 15 workers while Nova Scotia has five out of a complement of 17. He declined to specify how many more people he needs, though he said his office could function better if the number of his staff doubled.

Lena Diab, Nova Scotia's Justice Minister was not immediately available for comment. Her department provides funding to the ombudsman's office.

Bishop also expressed frustration that his office too often has to deal with push back from government departments that have their own investigative arms.

"I've been trying for a long time to educate government that we are an independent oversight body," he said.

Despite what Bishop said were his office's limitations, he said he expects to complete a number of projects in the next fiscal year. They include a review of a provincial residential child-caring facilities program, the office's first child death review and a review on an inmate's death in custody. He did not provide details of those reviews.