Alberta is home to a vibrant array of communities, each with its own identity and set of unique features. Cities, towns, villages, hamlets, and other municipalities function as local government responsible for delivering services, safety, and infrastructure to inhabitants.

In 2018, changes to the Ombudsman Act expanded our office’s jurisdiction to include the authority to investigate any administrative decision, recommendation, act, or omission of a municipality. Since then, the primary task of the Alberta Ombudsman has been to instill confidence in Albertans that involving the Ombudsman is a fair and effective way to resolve municipal complaints.  

The Alberta Ombudsman acts as an impartial third-party reviewer. Most complaints can be resolved at a low level but where necessary, the Ombudsman will investigate to determine whether a municipality has acted fairly and reasonably.  

If a citizen feels they were treated unfairly when accessing a municipal program or service, they are welcome to call our office. When a call comes in, an investigator will speak with the complainant and make every effort to understand the complainant’s position. We may inquire as to what steps the citizen has taken to resolve the issue and provide information if further review or appeal is available to them. The investigator may contact the municipality to ask questions or to attempt to resolve the situation as a means of early resolution. This interaction also allows the Ombudsman’s staff to build relationships with municipal staff, describe the office’s role and if appropriate, facilitate direct communication between the complainant and the municipality. This often facilitates a timely resolution of the complainant’s problem.

In January 2021, our office surveyed over 100 municipalities to learn what information the Ombudsman can provide to address their areas of interest and how to best deliver this information. Significant interest was expressed in learning more about our role and the concepts of administrative fairness. In response, work is underway to develop a library of educational resources for anyone seeking more information about administrative fairness, the Ombudsman’s role, and relationship to municipalities. Two examples can be found below. In addition to the information available on this website, we can provide webinars and workshops to council members, administrators, and other municipal staff upon request.

For more on the Ombudsman work with this important sector, see Building Relationships with Albertans – Municipality Report, a series of cases describing the types of issues from our first two years working with municipalities and the benefits to Albertans of a collaborative approach to resolving complaints.  

For information on developing vaccination passports or certification policies, see Fairness Principles for Public Service Providers Regarding the Use of COVID-19 Vaccine Certification. This guidance document, developed by the Canadian Council of Parliamentary Ombudsman, offers administrators insight into fairness principles to ensure no oppressive or unreasonable barriers exist to accessing local government services. 

Related Case Studies

Small town council reviews tax penalty

When can the Ombudsman investigate decisions of elected councilors? When political issues are voted on by elected councilors, an appointed official like the Ombudsman must respect the democratic process and allow those decisions to proceed unchallenged. A political decision might be approving the budget or passing a bylaw to bring in photo radar. At that…

CAO’s letter removes confusion for flooded homeowner

A thorough explanation can go a long way to satisfying a complainant, even when the resolution may not fully correct the underlying problem. A homeowner had lived in his home for many years when he began to experiencing flooding. He suspected it was caused by infill redevelopment in his neighbourhood. When the homeowner first contacted…