One Year as Toronto’s Ombudsman: Looking Ahead
It has been just over one year since I became Toronto’s Ombudsman. To mark this milestone, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the last year and share what it has been like for me and for the office.
As some of you may know, I was one of the first employees when Ombudsman Toronto opened its doors to the public in 2009. During those early days, I worked alongside a small team with then Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, to build the office from scratch.
Through that work, Ombudsman Toronto came to mean a great deal to me. Over the ensuing years, I have witnessed both the office’s tremendous growth and the positive impact it has on people in Toronto every day.
So, as you can imagine, I was honoured to rejoin the office as Ombudsman in 2021 — a feeling which has continued throughout my first year in the role.
Building Connections across Toronto
As many people have experienced, starting a new job during a global pandemic came with a new set of challenges. For starters, there were simply fewer opportunities to meet individuals in person.
Building and strengthening relationships — with members of the public, City of Toronto staff, and community organizations — is a core aspect of my role as Ombudsman and an integral part of my vision for the office. Relationships allow you to have more open, trusting, and in-depth conversations to get to the heart of an issue. That is why one of the first priorities I set as Ombudsman was to ensure that all people in the city know who we are and how to access our services.
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, my team remained motivated and focused on achieving this goal. We have put together an engagement plan to help us connect with people from all areas of Toronto — including meeting with people virtually — which has allowed us to share information about what we do and to listen to people’s concerns. I am proud to say that we are already more than 70% of the way to reaching our 2022 engagement goal.
Responding to Increasingly Complex Complaints
The office has seen a rise in complaints from members of the public over the past year. As life in Toronto has become more complex, so too have the complaints we receive — something I expect to continue in the coming years.
Often, the issues we hear about have many different layers to them and there are not always obvious solutions. This requires my team to dig deeper, do more work, and have an in-depth understanding of the City administration. The City itself is continually changing. We have seen the introduction of new organizations created by the City, including the Confronting Anti-Black Racism unit, the Toronto Seniors Housing Corporation, and the Housing Secretariat.
I am proud of my dedicated team, who are steadfast in their commitment to ensuring that the City of Toronto treats all people fairly, and who are resolving people’s complaints faster than ever before.
Our Expanded Mandate
Under the expert leadership of my predecessor, Susan Opler, Ombudsman Toronto’s mandate was expanded to include oversight over the Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) policies and procedures, examining their real-life impact on people in Toronto and recommending solutions to improve their fairness and accountability.
As soon as I began my term as Ombudsman, I initiated conversations with the TPS and the Toronto Police Services Board to negotiate the terms of this oversight through a Memorandum of Understanding, as directed by City Council. It is vital to get this work right and we have made great progress towards that goal.
This new oversight is an important step for both Toronto and the TPS. I look forward to sharing more updates in the months to come.
After a year as Toronto’s Ombudsman, I can’t help but reflect on all of the people who make my role what it is.
While many have welcomed me and wished me success, it is important to remember that I do not do this work alone. I am extremely fortunate to work alongside a great team who believe strongly in our vision of a City of Toronto government that treats all people fairly. I am also joined by my fellow Accountability Officers — the Auditor General, the Lobbyist Registrar, and the Integrity Commissioner — who collectively work to hold the City of Toronto accountable.
But most importantly, my role as Toronto’s Ombudsman and the Ombudsman Toronto office would not be what they are without the many people in this city who bring their complaints to us. Toronto, thank you for having me as your Ombudsman and for putting your trust in me. I am just as honoured to serve as your Ombudsman as I was on my first day.
As I look ahead to my second year as Ombudsman, I remain committed to being a champion for fairness at the City of Toronto, and to holding the City accountable to the people it serves.