Every province in Canada has an Ombudsman except one – Prince Edward Island. This needs to change.
Some argue that our small size gives Islanders greater access to their elected MLAs, and we can therefore bring complaints directly to government – something often not possible in larger provinces – so we therefore don’t need an “Ombudsman” to represent our interests and investigate our complaints against government. I disagree.
It is precisely because of our small size – along with our longstanding, deeply-entrenched history of a revolving “two-party” political system, where partisan favours have been routinely and disproportionately bestowed on the supporters of whichever political Party happens to form government at a given point in time – that PEI needs an Ombudsman.
The word “Ombudsman” is a gender-neutral Swedish word that means “citizen’s representative.” A PEI Ombudsman would promote fairness, accountability and transparency within government by investigating public complaints and reporting on issues of concern to all Islanders.
Like similar offices in other provinces, the Ombudsman would not only investigate complaints about the provincial government, but also municipalities, Universities and Colleges, and public School Boards.
The Ombudsman would be appointed by an all-party committee of the Legislative Assembly to serve five year terms.
To avoid an abuse of the system, Islanders submitting complaints to the Ombudsman would be required to first provide all relevant documentation, correspondence or other information, including what steps were already taken to address the issue, before a decision would be made whether sufficient grounds to investigate exist. In other words, the Ombudsman would be an “office of last resort” for Islanders to appeal to once all other available complaint-resolution mechanisms or appeals have failed to bring about a satisfactory resolution of the problem.
The Ombudsman would not be answerable to the government in power, but would report directly to the entire Legislative Assembly.
The Ombudsman would resolve particular issues brought forward by individuals as formal complaints, and would make recommendations, if needed, to bring about systemic improvements to increase the quality and fairness of governance for all Islanders. By tracking similar complaints from individuals that reveal weaknesses within government, recurring problems can then be addressed with appropriate legislative and/or regulatory remedies.