Al­berta Om­buds­man com­ing to Drumheller

The Drumheller Mail - - FRONT PAGE - Patrick Ko­lafa The Drumheller Mail

In­ves­ti­ga­tors from the Al­berta Om­buds­man will be in Drumheller spread­ing the word of what the of­fice does in the prov­ince and al­low­ing res­i­dents with con­cerns to ex­press them.

The Al­berta Om­buds­man is Peter Houri­han, and his of­fi­cers re­spond and in­ves­ti­gate com­plaints of un­fair treat­ment by pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment au­thor­i­ties and des­ig­nated pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tions. On Wed­nes­day, April 6, they will be in Drumheller.

“If some­one feels they have been mis­treated by the gov­ern­ment, pro­vided it is within our ju­ris­dic­tion, they can con­tact our of­fice once they have ex­hausted all av­enues for ap­peal­ing the par­tic­u­lar gov­ern­ment agen­cies they are deal­ing with,” said Houri­han.

He ex­plains they in­ves­ti­gate the com­plaints not sim­ply as sin­gle oc­cur­rences.

“We look at each file from as a sys­temic point of view as we can, we will look and see if there is a larger is­sue. So if it is a mat­ter of pol­icy, a case of a pol­icy that is not par­tic­u­larly well con­structed or doesn’t ex­ist we will get the gov­ern­ment pol­icy to change that,” he said. "Those are some­times our big­ger cases in the sense that it ad­justs the gov­ern­ment’s ac­tiv­ity in the fu­ture so

any­body fol­low­ing those foot­steps as a com­plainant will get bet­ter ser­vice in the first in­stance the next time around.”

There are other cases where the pol­icy is fine, but some­one just didn’t fol­low it cor­rectly that day.

“The area we get more calls than oth­ers are things where there is money or a ben­e­fit in­volved. Things like main­te­nance en­force­ment, AISH or WCB,” he ex­plains. “With AISH for ex­am­ple, some­one may be ap­ply­ing for a par­tic­u­lar ben­e­fit and they don’t get it. Ev­ery time an agency gets a claim they have a chance to get it right or get it wrong. AISH does get many claims and have ironed out so many ar­eas where it might get it wrong, it be­comes some­thing that is very rare.”

“Some­times if we have to ex­plain to the per­son they were treated fairly, it can be a very dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion to have be­cause they don’t feel they were.”

He says the of­fice has broad pow­ers in terms of in­ves­ti­ga­tion. They are able to in­ter­view whom they want, can com­pel peo­ple to be in­ter­viewed un­der oath and has ac­cess to gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments. When it comes to out­comes, the of­fice does not have the power to make a rul­ing.

“Our power is re­stricted to mak­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion back to gov­ern­ment,” he said.

He ex­plains that of­ten these rec­om­men­da­tions are dealt with at the deputy min­is­ter level and about 98 per cent of his of­fice’s rec­om­men­da­tions are adopted.

The of­fice can take its rec­om­men­da­tions to the min­is­ter level and even the Lieu­tenant General to have it ad­dressed in the leg­is­la­ture, if not sat­is­fied.

The Of­fice of the Om­buds­men is busy.

“On av­er­age we have about 5,000 calls for ser­vice. Of those 5,000 calls, about 55- 60 per cent are not ju­ris­dic­tional to our of­fice at the end of the day,” he ex­plains. “We will put those peo­ple in the right di­rec­tions, we take the time to ad­vise them where they should go next, and we're pretty good at that.”

Of the re­main­ing, he says about 60-70 per cent of those are not there at the right time, there are more steps that can be done be­fore the Of­fice of the Om­buds­man gets in­volved.

“At the end of the day we open about 180 to 200 for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tions per year,” he said.

He says the pre­sen­ta­tion in Drumheller is to raise aware­ness of the of­fice and its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“We aren’t try­ing to drum up busi­ness, we just want to make peo­ple aware if they have an is­sue, we may be an of­fice that may or may not be able to help them.”

He says there will be three in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Drumheller who will do a pre­sen­ta­tion, and they will also be around af­ter­wards for those who may have some­thing they want to bring to the of­fice’s at­ten­tion.

“It gives peo­ple a chance to meet face to face with an in­ves­ti­ga­tor in their home com­mu­nity.”

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