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Government watchdog advocates for fairness

B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter was in Penticton recently to listen to residents talk about their issues with elements of the provincial government and its agencies.
February 07, 2014 - 11:11 AM

PENTICTON - Whenever former military judge and B.C. Ombudsperson Kim Carter and her 35-member staff release recommendations to improve the government those in charge take notice.

"There is a real power to speak out independently about problem areas," she said.

Carter said her job is making sure every person in B.C. is treated fairly by the public services.

"That's the heart at what we do," she explained.

She and a few of her staff were in Penticton yesterday to listen to constituents. This was part of a small tour in the Okanagan with stops in Merritt, Vernon and Kelowna.

She and her staff can, for free, investigate provincial ministries, including complaints with income assistance, B.C. Hydro, hospitals, PharmaCare, schools and even professional associations such as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia. What her office doesn't cover are issues involving federal ministries and agencies, the RCMP, individual doctors, job issues with private companies, landlords and lawyers.

Her office finds out if complaints are legitimate, determine what went sour and make recommendations to ensure what went wrong never goes south again. In some cases she can recommend reimbursements be made, a new hearing is held or an apology is given.

She said she doesn't represent a single interest nor is she an advocate for an individual. Some of the cases might involve one person coming forward but the ombudsperson always tries to look at the broader picture.

"When one person comes in we check to see if this issue is out there (for others) and this might lead to a policy change," she said.

On Jan. 28 her office released a report on the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation not meeting expectations. Ministry delays led to more than 900 clients losing their entitled benefits. In response the government had to pay out $350,000 to those affected. This investigation was the result of individual complaints made to her office.

The ombudsperson office is also hands-on with those who contact them. She said 80 per cent of complaints are made over the phone and when someone does call a real live person answers rather than the caller being shunted into an automated system.

"People don't get happier if they have to do a big long telephone tree," she said smiling. "We are here to help real people with real problems."

In addition to her own staff her office can also hire or seek the services of outside experts. A statistician was contracted to help her office with a 2006 investigation on the B.C. Lottery Corporation and how they pay out winnings. Twenty-three recommendations were made to the corporation.

Carter said those who receive her office's recommendations aren't forced to follow them.

"They don't have to accept our recommendations. But we are pretty persuasive," she said. "We want to make sure the government is accountable and it is doing what they are saying."

Media coverage is also helpful but her office doesn't seek out attention. She said the media will do its job and she will do her's.

The ombudsperson office can be reached at 1-800-567-3247 and found online at www.ombudsman.bc.ca.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Quesnel at squesnel@infotelnews.ca, call 250-488-3065 or tweet @InfoNewsPentict.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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