The Ombudsman in Manitoba
Throughout the decade of the 1960s, the concept of an ombudsman to act on behalf of citizens when they had a grievance with government was discussed and debated frequently in many provinces, including Manitoba. It was the establishment of the New Zealand Ombudsman in 1962, the first ombudsman in a British Commonwealth country, that seemed to get everyone interested in the idea.
A parliamentary ombudsman had first been established in 1809 in Sweden. The word "ombudsman" is Swedish, and is often translated as "citizen's representative" or "representative of the people." After Sweden, ombudsmen were established in Finland (1919), Denmark (1954), Norway (1961) and New Zealand (1962).
Sir Guy Powles, New Zealand's ombudsman, was a guest of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (Winnipeg chapter) in February 1966. While in Winnipeg, he also met with the legislature's special committee on statutory regulations and orders.
In December 1966, a kind of ombudsman was proposed - a "legislative commissioner for administration" - in the Citizen's Remedies Code White Paper presented to the Manitoba legislature. While similar to an ombudsman in that the commissioner was going to be an independent officer of the legislature, it limited the role by proposing that the commissioner could only act at the request of a MLA and could not take complaints directly from Manitobans. The proposal excluded tribunals, crown agencies, corporations, and boards and commissions, from the commissioner's scrutiny. And while the proposed commissioner would have the ability to collect oral or written evidence, the government would have the right to refuse the production of documents. This proposal was never implemented, but it kept the debate going.
In 1970, Manitoba became the fourth province (after Alberta, New Brunswick and Quebec) to establish an ombudsman. The Ombudsman Act created the office and set out the ombudsman's authority to investigate complaints about administration by provincial government departments and agencies. In 1997, the ombudsman's jurisdiction was extended to all urban and rural municipalities in Manitoba (except the City of Winnipeg), and in 2003, it was extended to the City of Winnipeg. The Ombudsman Act incorporates the hallmarks of all legislative ombudsmen:
- independence of the office
- broad powers of investigation
- informal procedures for conducting investigations
- non-adversarial approaches to the resolution of problems
- the power to make recommendations
- the power to report publicly
These same hallmarks are evident in subsequent laws that established the Manitoba Ombudsman as the oversight authority over provincial information privacy legislation - the Freedom of Information Act (1988-1998), the Personal Health Information Act (1997) and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (1998). Under FIPPA and PHIA, the ombudsman investigates complaints from people who have concerns about any decision, act or failure to act that relates to their requests for information from public bodies or trustees, or a privacy concern about the way their personal information was handled. Under FIPPA and PHIA, the ombudsman's mandate includes municipalities and entities in the health and education sectors.
Manitoba's ombudsman has additional responsibilities under other legislation:
- Under the Fatality Inquiries Act, the chief medical examiner may direct that an inquest be held into the death of a person. Following the inquest, the judge submits a report and may recommend changes in the programs, policies and practices of government that, in his or her opinion, would reduce the likelihood of death in similar circumstances. The Manitoba Ombudsman began monitoring the implementation of inquest report recommendations in 1985.
- In 2007, the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act was proclaimed. The ombudsman is one of the parties to whom a person can make a disclosure of wrongdoing.
In Manitoba, the ombudsman is appointed by the lieutenant governor in council on the recommendation of the all-party Standing Committee of the Assembly on Legislative Affairs. The ombudsman is appointed for a term of six years, and may be re-appointed for a second term of six years (but not for more than two terms).
Manitoba's ombudsmen, 1970 to present:
- Jill Perron (2019-present)
- Marc Cormier (Acting) (2018)
- Charlene Paquin (2015-2018)
- Mel Holley (Acting) (2012-2015)
- Irene Hamilton (2005-2012)
- Barry Tuckett (1994-2005)
- Gordon Earle (1982-1994)
- George Maltby (1970-1982)