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Ombudsman Oversight Bill Introduced
November 15, 2010 permalink
Today Rosario Marchese introduced his private members bill to expand the role of Ontario's ombudsman to cover new areas including children's aid societies. Witnesses who were present in the legislature confirm on Facebook that the bill was introduced as planned.
Expand ombudsman powers: Ont. NDP
Private member's bill to be tabled Monday
Vulnerable seniors in long-term care homes and families torn apart by social workers are just two reasons why Ontario's ombudsman needs expanded authority similar to his counterparts in other provinces, say social activists and the NDP.
The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, a legal aid clinic that helps low-income seniors, finds half its practice involves problems with people in long-term care facilities, hospitals and retirement homes, said executive director Judith Wahl.
"We get thousands of complaints a year, so we would welcome the addition of the ombudsman looking at some of these issues and providing some remedies," said Wahl.
There are plenty of regulations governing the health-care sector, but they don't always protect patients, Wahl added.
"Despite the fact there is a great deal of legislation that governs all of these health bodies, we see the phenomenon of good law/bad practice, so the systems do not reflect the law," she said.
"We see policies and practices that take away people's rights, or do not provide the whole scope that is afforded by the legislation."
The Foster Care Council of Canada said workers at Children's Aid Societies in Ontario are burdened with heavy caseloads and often have little time for the clients they are supposed to serve.
"As a former Crown ward, I experienced a great deal of frustration with CAS workers," said council spokesperson Michele Farrugia.
"Some foster children fight for more than 10 years to get copies of their own personal records from a CAS. Sometimes, Children's Aid Societies take away children for very little reason."
There are family situations that the Ombudsman could quickly address before they take tragic turns, added Farrugia.
"We also know of siblings who were separated when taken into care and only discovered each other late in adult life, despite the fact they were never adopted," he said.
"Ombudsman's oversight is vital to ensuring the best interest of Ontario's vulnerable children and youth."
Problem 'not going away'
New Democrat Rosario Marchese plans to introduce a private member's bill Monday to give the ombudsman the power to investigate hospitals, long-term care homes, school boards, municipalities, and Children's Aid Societies.
The ombudsman's office already receives complaints about these institutions each year but is powerless to help, Marchese said.
"This problem of complaints is not going away," he said.
"Problems are happening in every one of the institutions … and we believe there is no downside to having an ombudsman have oversight into these institutions."
The ombudsman could find out why there are 9,000 children in Ontario waiting to be adopted, added Marchese.
"For some reason in Ontario we're having a hard time making sure that these kids get adopted," he said.
"Maybe there's a good reason, but someone like an ombudsman would be able to get in there, review the matter and recommend changes in a very expeditious matter."
Marchese isn't the first to introduce such legislation. Liberal backbencher Mario Sergio introduced his own private member's bill in 2008 to create the office of the seniors' ombudsman.
"Every day, there are seniors whose rights, whose dignity, whose quality of life is trampled upon, threatened by negligence and uncaring government bodies, and by others as well in the private sector," Sergio said before his bill went down to defeat.
The Progressive Conservatives said they were open to Marchese's legislation, noting the province spends $60 billion on health care and education each year.
"We'll look at all avenues wherever the public's dollar is spent to make sure is has the proper oversight and accountability," said Opposition critic Jim Wilson.
"If we need officers of the legislature to help us with that, then I don't think we would rule that out at this time."
No oversight of hospitals
Private member's bills rarely become law in Ontario, and even Ombudsman André Marin admits his office has been pushing for the expanded oversight powers for decades.
"Our annual reports for the last 35 years have consistently called for the ombudsman's mandate to be modernized to include the MUSH [municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals] sector," Marin said in an email.
Ontario is the only province whose ombudsman has no oversight of hospitals, but the office still gets complaints.
"They focused on issues ranging from complaints about poor communication by administrators to serious allegations of abuse and substandard care," Marin wrote in his 2010 report.
The province created the Family Services Review Board as an arms-length body to oversee complaints about Children's Aid Societies, said Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten.
"It's incredibly important that we have oversight and that Ontarians feel there are mechanisms for them to raise issues of concern, and those processes have been put in place by our government," Broten said in an interview.
"The steps our government has taken have vastly improved the oversight and put in place a very specialized approach when it comes to kids and families."
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs said provincial law allows every municipality to appoint an ombudsman, integrity commissioner, auditor general and lobbyist registry if they wish.
The Ministry of Health said it has proposed legislation which would expand freedom of information legislation to hospitals and will require them to post expenses and attest to their use of consultants.
Addendum: The proposed law is Bill 131, Ombudsman Amendment Act (Designated Public Bodies), 2010. The introduction appears in the Hansard:   . Here is a radio interview of Rosario Marchese (mp3) by Rita Celli of CBC Ottawa.