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Oshawa riding tops provincial list for complaints to Ontario watchdog

Over the past year, 36 complaints to the Ontario Ombudsman have been lodged against the City of Oshawa. Only one of those complaints led to a full investigation, which discovered that council had illegally closed an education and training session with the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation when discussing the defunct merger. (Photo by Joel Wittnebel).

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The Ontario Ombudsman recently released his annual report, collecting the statistics for complaints and investigations across all his mandates, which now include municipalities, school boards and universities and colleges.

In particular, the report found the provincial riding of Oshawa had the most complaints of any in the province, while the city of Oshawa itself had 36 complaints filed over the 2016/2017 period. This is the highest of any municipality in Durham and a three-fold increase over the 12 complaints received during 2015/2016 time period.

What follows is a closer look at those numbers, and how the ombudsman handles those complaints.

The Ombudsman’s report breaks down the numbers into several categories. Where Oshawa tops the list is for complaints by provincial riding. According to Linda Williamson, a spokesperson for the ombudsman, these include any and all complaints, regardless of topic, that come in with a postal code that falls within the Oshawa riding. However, it may not be a catch-all, she notes.

“Since some complaints come in without a postal code, this chart does not represent all cases received,” she says.

Oshawa topped the list at 200 complaints total, a decrease over last year’s 207 complaints, but higher than average over the last five years, which sits at about at about 155 complaints annually for the riding.

This is also not the first time Oshawa has topped the list, the last time being in the 2009/2010 catchment year when the riding saw 117 complaints to the provincial watchdog.

These complaints were only a small fraction of the 21,328 received by the ombudsman over the last year, which included 10,440 regarding provincial ministries and programs, 2,667 regarding municipalities, 945 against school boards and 175 against universities.

According to Williamson, many of these do not require a formal inspection by the ombudsman.

“The vast majority of cases are resolved informally, without need for investigation,” she says.

In Oshawa, of the 36 complaints received, only one required a formal investigation, and found that in December 2016, the city illegally held a closed education and training session with the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation (OPUC) regarding the now defunct merger.

In a statement to The Oshawa Express, the city’s corporate communications team says that the city was not provided details of the 36 cases ahead of the annual report’s release.

“We would like to note that the process by which the Ombudsman manages cases may or may not involve city staff, many cases may be resolved directly by the Ombudsman’s office. Save for the closed meeting investigation referenced in the report, there were no formal investigations respecting Oshawa,” the statement reads.

Information obtained by The Oshawa Express notes that the Ombudsman’s office made three “inquiries” with the city over the last year, but there were no details shared about what those inquiries were regarding.

Breaking down the 36 complaints about the city, the largest culprit for complaints was bylaw enforcement with 11 complaints, followed by 10 regarding council and committee. One complaint a piece was received on the topics of accountability, finance, parking, planning/zoning, private property matters, and taxes, while six complaints were received regarding hydro. One complaint was classified as “other”.

In terms of Durham Region, the municipality itself received 34 complaints to the watchdog, while the provincial riding of Durham saw 126 complaints. Other Durham municipalities also saw a number of complaints over the past year including Whitby (12), Pickering (4), Ajax (7), Uxbridge (4), Scugog (4), Brock (3) and Clarington (4).

The Durham District School Board (DDSB) saw 27 complaints filed, the Durham Catholic District School Board (DCDSB) saw 10 and Durham College saw 12.