As of April 1, 2018, the Alberta Ombudsman’s jurisdiction expanded to include municipalities. The office may now act on complaints about municipalities and if warranted, initiate investigations into unfair treatment about municipal decisions and decision-making processes.
Below are Frequently Asked Questions that explain the role of the Ombudsman and how it affects municipalities.
What do I need to know about the Alberta Ombudsman?
The Ombudsman is an independent Officer of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, a role brought into force in 1967 when the Ombudsman Act was proclaimed by the Alberta government. The Ombudsman is impartial, operating independently from the Alberta government, political parties and individual elected officials. The Ombudsman is approachable, responsive and offers services free of charge.
What does the Ombudsman do?
The Alberta Ombudsman’s office responds to complaints of unfair treatment by organizations and authorities identified in the Ombudsman Act. After April 1, 2018 these include: provincial and municipal government departments, self-regulated health professions, the Patient Concerns Resolution Process of Alberta Health Services and designated professional organizations.
What types of complaints will the Ombudsman review?
The Ombudsman has the authority to investigate complaints from individuals who feel they have been treated unfairly by a municipality. We are the office of last resort. Complainants must go through any relevant appeal or review process before the Ombudsman can investigate.
What will the Ombudsman’s office do when they receive a complaint involving a municipality?
The process for complaints about a municipality will be similar to the process the Ombudsman’s office uses for dealing with other jurisdictional complaints. All complaints will be reviewed and the Ombudsman will determine whether we have jurisdiction to investigate. If we do, investigators will consider the appropriate avenue for investigation based on the details of the complaint that are provided. More information on how a complaint is handled can be found on our website here:
Will the Ombudsman investigate a complaint regarding the decision of a municipality, prior to April 1, 2018?
No. On April 1, 2018, amendments to the Municipal Government Act pertaining to the Ombudsman took effect and our jurisdiction expanded to include municipalities.
Who will be notified when an investigation of a municipal complaint occurs?
Once an investigation is launched and staff from the Ombudsman’s office have conducted an initial interview with the complainant, the municipal office may be contacted. Through the course of the investigation, the Ombudsman will work with both the complainant and municipal department in an objective and neutral way. At the conclusion of the investigation, recommendations are made to the administrative head of the municipality and the complainant is notified. The Ombudsman may choose to notify the Minister of Municipal Affairs of recommendations in relation to an investigation involving a municipality.
If the Ombudsman conducts an investigation and the complainant is still dissatisfied, what options are available to them?
The Ombudsman’s office is the office of last resort. The proceedings or decisions of the Ombudsman cannot be challenged in any court.
What can a municipal office do to prepare for working with the Alberta Ombudsman?
There are many tools and resources available to authorities within our jurisdiction to educate staff on the role of the Alberta Ombudsman. These include:
- Municipal Frequently Asked Questions
- Administrative Fairness Guidelines
- Fundamentals of a Complaints Mechanism
- Internal Complaint Mechanism Checklist
We also conduct regular Outreach events to spread awareness of our office.
Municipal Affairs, in partnership with Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), and Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), has prepared tools designed to aid municipalities in the implementation of the amendments to the Municipal Government Act (MGA). These include:
An important resource indicating the changes that have been made to the MGA and what key dates actions need to be taken by to be in compliance with the act.
One to two page briefs on the different changes to the MGA that covers what’s changed, what municipalities need to do, when the changes take place and what resources are available to assist. They also cover a wide range of topics in the areas of governance, planning, and taxation and assessment.
This handbook covers an overview of the responsibilities of municipal councillors and is intended to help the powers and duties of a municipal council as a whole and for individual councillors.
For additional tools, including the Councillor Code of Coduct: A Guide for Municipalities, Municipal Affairs has created a resources page to support Municipal Government Act change management. Click here to review.
What has the Alberta Ombudsman’s office done to prepare?
In 2017, the office initiated a jurisdictional scan of other provincial Ombudsman offices that investigate municipal complaints. A business analysis was conducted to assess the impact of the expanded jurisdiction in those provinces and to formulate predictions in Alberta. It was determined that the Ombudsman can expect at least a 30% increase in complaints with the addition of Alberta’s approximately 350 municipalities. As such, the Ombudsman’s office has undertaken an organization-wide initiative dedicated to improving operations, adding to our staff complement and implementing strategic changes in education and awareness.
We have recently reached out to Municipal Affairs to share more about the Ombudsman’s role, and coordinate the delivery of training workshops for our staff. Our office is engaged in events organized by the Local Government Administration Association of Alberta (LGAA), Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) and we continue to prioritize outreach with other stakeholders. We value the open exchange of information and a shared understanding of roles, moving forward.
Please continue to check our website frequently for resource materials and learning opportunities available to you