The Alberta Ombudsman recognizes three former staffers who went on to establish complaint-handling offices with solid roots in procedural fairness.
“These three women contributed significantly during their years at the Ombudsman’s office and have gone on to do great work pursuing fairness within or alongside the Ombudsman community,” reflects Marianne Ryan, Alberta’s ninth Ombudsman and second Public Interest Commissioner. “As the influence and value of the Ombudsman community grows, more people are considering fairness work as a specific career avenue.”
Ombuds Day, celebrated on the second Thursday of October, is inclusive to all types of ombudsman and serves to increase awareness by educating the public about the role, explaining the wide variety of services ombuds provide, encouraging greater use of ombuds programs and services, and highlighting the value ombuds bring to the institutions and constituents they serve.
Leaders in investigations and alternative dispute resolution, ombudsman offer confidential, independent, and impartial services to ensure administrative fairness principles are upheld in the delivery of public services. Ombuds are found fighting for fairness in a wide variety of organizations from colleges and universities, healthcare institutions, corporations, the media, financial institutions and beyond.
Our three-article series celebrating former Alberta Ombudsman staff members will be released throughout the week of October 12 – 15. To catch each article, follow us on Twitter @AB_Ombudsman or revisit this page.
Lawyer reflects on fairness standards and her experience with the Alberta Ombudsman’s office
Throughout her 30-year career with independent review agencies, Mary Marshall has relied on principles she practiced during her work with the Alberta Ombudsman’s office as Director of Legal Services.
After three years with the Ombudsman’s office, Marshall gained firsthand experience in the application of administrative fairness principles by an independent office of the Alberta Legislature. In going on to establish the Office of the Alberta Health Advocate and offering to serve as Health Advocate for its first six months, Marshall pursued an organizational framework that tapped into her experience with the Ombudsman. “The Ombudsman set a high standard for what independence means. Having the authority to conduct proper investigations independent of bureaucracy is a critical characteristic when assessing fairness,” says Marshall. “In setting up the office, I worked to ensure the Health Advocate was as independent as possible so it could properly fulfill its role.”
Seconding an experienced investigator from the Ombudsman’s office helped significantly, Marshall goes on to say. Setting up the advocate’s day-to-day operations to help patients and their families navigate the health care system was one of her three main focuses. Marshall also concentrated on communicating with the public on what the office would do and on collaborating with officials on how to apply guiding legislation, including Alberta’s Health Charter.
Alberta to the Cayman Islands, answering the call for administrative fairness
Experience with North America’s oldest Parliamentary Ombudsman gave Sandy Hermiston a roadmap when she left her position as General Counsel of the Alberta Ombudsman in 2017 to establish and lead the first Ombudsman office in the Cayman Islands.
“The Alberta Ombudsman had an established reputation. Well trained and professional staff took a thoughtful approach to what it means to work together,” Hermiston recalls. “I had a good idea of what a well-functioning office should look like. It was worth recreating as much as possible.”
When she joined the Alberta Ombudsman in 2014, Hermiston already had a foundation in administrative fairness having worked as General Counsel to the Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation for 17 years.
During her time in Alberta, one valuable task she recalls is helping to establish the province’s first Public Interest Commissioner’s office. Then Ombudsman, Peter Hourihan, was named the first Public Interest Commissioner when the office came into force in 2013. Hermiston says planning how an office should be set up to accomplish its goals is different from simply thinking about how to improve. This helped her when she arrived in the Caymans.
Leading the way – first SAIT Ombudsperson pays forward her passion for fairness
Forging a new foundation for fairness, Kamini Bernard moved on from her position as Manager of Investigations for the Alberta Ombudsman five months ago to become the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s inaugural Ombudsperson.
When Kamini Bernard first saw the investigator job description for the Alberta Ombudsman’s office in 2009, she didn’t know exactly what an Ombudsman was – but she immediately knew it was somewhere she wanted to work. Understanding Albertans had somewhere to turn to help ensure processes are followed and decisions are fair was all it took.
Armed with a background in policy and procedure development, Bernard was experienced at implementing decisions that followed set policies. She came with a passion for ensuring organizations follow their own processes and do what they say they are going to do. “I strived to do that in every decision I made,” she recalls. “The job with the Alberta Ombudsman allowed me to take that passion and put it into practice – in a way that I didn’t even know existed.”
In 2017, Bernard worked to implement an alternative complaint handling process that would streamline the existing standard timeline for resolving complaints received by the Alberta Ombudsman. The early resolution process enables the office to deal with concerns more efficiently at an early entry point to try to resolve issues rather than starting a full investigation. This saves time for not only the office and the authority, but also for the individuals in need of assistance.