Although the introduction of the ombudsman institution dates back at
least 200 years, its proliferation within Canadian society is roughly
three decades old, being first introduced by means of provincial
In 1984, the issue of whether the Ombudsman of British Columbia had
the power to investigate a complaint relating to a provincial Crown
corporation’s refusal to renew a lease was heard in Canada’s highest
court. Twent- five years ago, the Supreme Court of Canada discussed the
justification for ombudsman services as follows:
“Within the last generation or two the size and complexity of
government has increased immeasurably, in both qualitative and
quantitative terms. Since the emergence of the modern welfare state,
the intrusion of government into the lives and livelihood of
individuals has increased exponentially. Government now provides
services and benefits, intervenes actively in the marketplace, and
engages in proprietary functions that fifty years ago would have been
unthinkable … As a side effect of these changes … has come the
increased exposure to maladministration, abuse of authority and
The ombudsman institution continued to proliferate across Canada,
with the introduction of federal ombudsman services in the early 1990s.
Newly launched federal ombudsman offices are currently serving the
following segments of the population: passport holders; taxpayers;
veterans and suppliers.
Ombudsman services are largely defined and discussed in terms of the
fundamental principles of independence, confidentiality, due process,
accessibility, reporting, etc. This paper discusses none of these
fundamentals but rather how the introduction of an ombudsman serves to
quickly trigger a reduction in realities or perceptions of secrecy,
maladministration or a lack of transparency. The ombudsman, while
primarily appointed to handle complaints, can also indirectly lead
cultural change within an organization.
I was appointed in September 2008 to assume the role of the National
Capital Commission’s (NCC) inaugural ombudsman. The NCC, a federal
Crown corporation, has the duty of creating, preserving and
communicating Canada’s capital region as an expression of Canada. The
introduction of an ombudsman to the NCC was a “remedy” suggested in a
special report prepared by a panel of three distinguished Canadians.
The panel addressed the major irritants and constraints that had
plagued the NCC in the years preceding 2006. The report specifically
recommended that an ombudsman be appointed, for the following
“Given the large number of irritants that the Panel has become aware
of (many of which appeared to be resolvable rather easily but had been
allowed to drag on for very long periods) there is a need for a place
where problem resolution must occur.”2
It is the above paragraph that I first turned to when I began to
serve; in hindsight a useful beacon. My goal was and remains to help
address administrative problems as well as contribute to the NCC’s
present goal of improved conflict resolution with the public. In recent
months, I have observed first hand that an ombudsman, if accorded
proper authority and independence can influence organizational culture
so as to embed and reinforce conflict resolution and promote direct
access to decision makers.
1 B.C. Development Corp. v. Friedmann  2 S.C.R. 447 at 459-461.
2 Report of the panel on NCC Mandate Review “Charting a New Course;” December 2006, recommendation #28, page 39.
Rapport du comité d’examen du mandat de la CCN « Ouvrir de nouveaux horizons »; décembre 2006, recommandation no 28, page 40.