I hear Toronto recently got its first ombudsman, which has me wondering, Why now? And what exactly does an ombudsman do?
First the why. In 2006, the provincial government passed the City of Toronto Act, which gave Ontario’s capital a whole whack of new powers. Of course, with great power (or in this case, the power to distribute four different sizes of recycling bins) comes great responsibility, which is why the act stipulates that the city employ an ombudsman. The reason we’re just getting one now can be chalked up to the standard snail’s pace at which all things city hall tend to operate. Now the what. You may be oblivious to the ins and outs of the “o” word, but you’re not alone. According to our first ombudsman, Fiona Crean, a surprising number of high-level professionals are unfamiliar with the term. If it sounds more like a new IKEA product than a job title, that may be because it is, in fact, Swedish. Loosely translated, it means “representative of the people” and describes an appointed person who investigates public complaints against administrative bodies. Thus far, Crean and her team have fielded gripes from more than 250 citizens, wielding some demi-superhero powers—issuing subpoenas, searching city offices—in order to recommend policy and practice changes to city council. In short, this is one busy woman, so before troubling her with minor peeves (such as garbage collectors who leave potato peels in the bottom of the green bin), picky citizens should start by contacting the department that’s done them wrong. The ombudsman, says Crean, is the office of last resort.
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