Apr 25, 2013 By Eddie Rwema
EMC news – A motion by a south Ottawa public trustee to give the Ontario ombudsman extra authority to investigate and intervene in complaints that aren’t resolved within the school boards, was voted down on April 2.
Gloucester-Southgate trustee Mark Fisher, brought forward the motion seeking support from his fellow trustees to write a letter to the premier and leaders of the official opposition, asking them to re-introduce and support legislation to modernize the Ombudsman act.
Fisher was the only one that voted in favour of the motion.
“I am disappointed but certainly, that will not stop me as an individual trustee moving forward and trying to advocate for this kind of change,” said Fisher.
The legislation that Fisher is fighting for would allow the ombudsman to investigate public complaints involving school boards as well as the governing bodies of universities, hospitals and municipalities
“The majority of the trustees felt that if the Ombudsman had the responsibility to investigate public complaints that would undermine and take away the responsibility from school boards,” he said.
“I think there is a lot of merit in putting in place another level of recourse for parents.”
According to the 2011-12 annual report of the ombudsman, Ontario has fallen behind in oversight of organizations providing critical public services referred to as the “MUSH” sector – municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, police, and children’s aid societies.
“There are parents that find themselves in tough situations and feel they need to seek out another avenue to get another hearing in a more fair and impartial way,” said Fisher.
“Extending these responsibilities to the office of the Ombudsman made ultimate sense to me.”
Fisher said he wished trustees had taken more time to understand how the office of the Ombudsman works and how they could relate to that office in a meaningful and respectful way.
“At the end of the day the Ombudsman is not going to look at any complaint unless due process has been followed and exhausted at the local level – this includes engaging the teacher, then the principal, school board officials and trustees,” he said.
He said the legislation seeks to enhance the level of transparency and accountability in the education sector.
Rideau-Vanier trustee Rob Campbell who chose to abstain said it was unfortunate that the motion was defeated without seeking to improve it.
“I think it is too bad that the board as a whole wasn’t more supportive and I think there was something of value in his motion,” said Campbell.
Campbell said he suggested a few amendments, which Fisher didn’t want to incorporate in his motion, including one that sought the motion to just focus on school boards.
“He declined to seek those amendments so I had to abstain, though I support his motion in principle,” said Campbell.
“If his motion had passed that would be one more avenue for recourse for citizens and I am confident the people I represent would be all for it.”
Campbell added that for years now trustees across the province have felt their powers and authority are not respected.
Fisher said voting down his motion will not stop him from continuing to advocate for it.
“I am going to continue moving forward because I know it is the right thing to do,” Fisher said.
“I have received messages from people across Ontario, commending me on the effort and indicating their disappointment that the board didn’t support it. I am going to talk to local MPPs, write a letter to the premier of Ontario and leaders of the opposition asking them to re-introduce legislation that died because of prolongation.”
In 2011-12, the ombudsman received a record number of complaints and inquiries about the MUSH sector.
During the same period, the ombudsman received 119complaints and inquiries about Ontario’s school boards. None of them could be dealt with.
Many were from parents concerned about things like student suspensions, lack of adequate special education supports, the treatment of students with autism, insufficient consultation about school closures, and inadequate responses to bullying.
These complaints had to be turned away or referred elsewhere.