Alberta Ombudsman coming to Drumheller
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.”