Kitchener-Waterloo

Shared ombudsman a possibility for Waterloo Region in 2016

Municipalities across Waterloo Region could be sharing an ombudsman in the new year, when new provincial regulations come into effect.
Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky said a shared ombudsman would save local municipalities time and money. (Courtesy Dave Jaworsky)

Cities and towns across Waterloo Region could be sharing an ombudsman in the new year, when new provincial regulations come into effect.

As of Jan. 1, 2016, municipal governments must give citizens the option to file a complaint with a third party investigator.

On Monday, Waterloo city councillors voted in favour of a staff recommendation to share an ombudsman with other interested local municipalities, including the regional level. 

"You know, we're all very close here in our community, geographically and otherwise," said Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky in an interview on The Morning Edition. "If you can do something that's more cost effective by having a shared service...that makes the best sense."

Partnership to save time

Municipalities that don't have their own ombudsman will have the option of referring residents to the provincial ombudsman, but Jaworsky said that would not be ideal.

If you can do something that's more cost effective by having a shared service...that makes the best sense.- Mayor Dave Jaworsky, City of Waterloo

"The provincial ombudsman would have a lot of provincial issues to deal with," he said. "There's probably a pretty large queue of provincial complaints. Whereas, we would foresee...very few complaints. If we do have some, we want to get to them right away."

Jaworsky said details of the partnership, including costs and scheduling, have not been worked out yet, and that the city is still waiting to see if any other municipalities would be interested.

Cambridge city councillors are scheduled to consider the partnership in early November and Jaworsky expected that regional council would look into the matter within the next few months.

Office of last resort

Unlike the City of Waterloo's integrity commissioner, who deals with complaints against elected officials, a municipal ombudsman would deal with complaints against city and regional staff.

So, when people have exhausted all their opportunities...that's when they can go to the ombudsman.- Mayor Dave Jaworsky, City of Waterloo

"Today you can...talk to the CAO, you can talk to your ward councillor and you can talk to the mayor," Jaworsky said. "This just gives [residents] one extra step to say, 'You know what, I still feel hard done by. This doesn't seem right. I'd like an objective opinion on this.'"

But Jaworsky cautions that the ombudsman would be used as a last resort. 

"So, when people have exhausted all their opportunities dealing with the staff and the elected officials of the city and they feel like they have nowhere to go, but really feel they have a point to make, that's when they can go to the ombudsman."

Residents who are not satisfied with an investigation by the local ombudsman will still have the option to bring their complaints forward to the provincial ombudsman

The provincial ombudsman will also be able to investigate a complaint against a local government if the local ombudsman refuses to investigate or if the time to bring a complaint against the local government has passed.

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