What’s an ombudsman?
Sweden had the first, in 1809. The term is rooted in Old Norse and essentially means representative, or public advocate. A cursory glance at Wikipedia informs us such officials “aim to identify systemic issues leading to poor service or breaches of people’s rights.”
In B.C. we have an ombudsperson, Jay Chalke. On Monday, he took Surrey city council to task for amendments to the Council Code of Conduct Bylaw, one of which blocks the city ethics commissioner from processing any new complaints lodged against council members until after the Oct.15 civic election, as of April 12.
In his missive to council, he used words like “disappointment” and “regrettable” as he urged council not to adopt the amendment.
He argued that the principles of transparency, accountability and integrity “should always be promoted, not just in non-election years.”
Nevertheless, the Safe Surrey Coalition majority on council approved final adoption of the contentious amendments on Monday, despite Chalke’s same-day counsel.
In February, Ryerson University conferred on Surrey council a dishonourable mention in the civic government category of the 2021 Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy. The Code of Silence Awards are designed to draw public attention to government or publicly-funded agencies “that work hard to hide information to which the public has a right to under access to information legislation.”
Perhaps a new category should be created for councils that ignore the advice of provincial-level public advocates such as Chalke.
The only mystery is, would Surrey council win, place or show?