News / Ottawa

Ontario's ombudsman can now investigate municipal, university complaints

Provincial watchdog a ‘last resort’ for city hall, university beefs, says acting ombudsman Barbara Finlay.

Acting Ontario ombudsman Barbara Finlay says her office can make non-binding recommendations to municipalities, universities and school boards.

TORSTAR NEWS SERVICE / SAN GREWAL

Acting Ontario ombudsman Barbara Finlay says her office can make non-binding recommendations to municipalities, universities and school boards.

Anyone griping about city hall has a new avenue to lodge complaints, now that Ontario’s ombudsman has expanded powers to investigate municipalities.

As of Jan. 1, the provincial independent watchdog can now look into complaints about municipalities and universities.

But here in Ottawa, residents will continue lodging complaints to the integrity commissioner, a local independent investigator who handles complaints about city council.

“We are a last resort,” said acting ombudsman Barbara Finlay.

That is, if a resident disagrees with how the integrity commissioner handled a case, she can take it to the Ontario ombudsman.

Only about 50 of 444 Ontario municipalities have integrity commissioners. Residents in the remaining municipalities were left with “nowhere to turn” with their complaints, said Finlay.

Her office is looking to change that. They are encouraging municipalities to set up their own independent complaints mechanisms.

Meanwhile, the ombudsman’s office has received about 30 complaints since Jan. 1, the nature of which includes city services, housing and conflicts of interest.

Bill 8, which expanded the ombudsman’s mandate, passed in December 2014. Since then, the office has received 2,227 complaints about municipalities and 70 about universities (if yours is included in the mix, you will have to re-submit it).

As of September, the office also has the power to investigate school board complaints.

The Ontario ombudsman can make recommendations to municipalities, universities and school boards, but they are not binding.

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