Finally, an Ombudsperson for Islanders, we hope.
The Ombudsperson Act was first introduced to the Prince Edward Island Legislature on December 15, 1998, by the then Leader of the Third Party (Island New Democrats), and voted down by the majority Binns government on May 25, 1999. Although the bill acquired support from the Liberal Official Opposition of the day, they failed to adopt it into law after returning to government from 2007-2019.
One of the reasons for presenting the bill was to provide recourse for vulnerable Islanders who were being treated unfairly by government, with an independent authority to correct, and thus prevent abuse of power. At the time, wholesale interference by MLAs with job placement, or displacement (political patronage), particularly in seasonal government work, was rampant, a stain on our province that has yet to fully dissipate. Some called it “an Island way of life”; we called it “an Island politician’s way of life”.
Historically, the title used for an independent government overseer was ombudsman, a term of Swedish origin, but we coined the word ombudsperson, to project a more inclusive and egalitarian concept. Despite the fact that all other Canadian provinces had such an office, the main arguments against it used by government was that it was too costly, and an ombudsperson was not needed since the 27 sitting MLAs were sufficient advocates for Islanders in need. Perhaps put another way, the fox had the chicken house well protected.
In actual fact, having an ombudsperson in place in other jurisdictions has shown to be very efficient with dispute resolution, easing or preventing hardship for individuals, and saving government money in lengthy court battles. MLAs are not well positioned to impartially arbitrate between citizens and government administration.
We achieved some success in establishing a measure of employment security for government seasonal employees by pushing for an automatic call-back system for workers. This program was eventually adopted by government.
The time has long past for Prince Edward Island Legislature to join the rest of the world’s democracies and vote unanimously for the establishment of an Office of the Ombudsperson to provide fairness for Islanders, as well as efficiency and accountability in government administration.
Dr. Herb Dickieson, former Leader
Island New Democrats
Contact: (902) 856-0259
Attachment – Private Members’ Bill No. 200, The Ombudsperson Act
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