Office has at least 35 backdated cases left over from previous years
In her latest annual report tabled last week, City of Laval ombudswoman Nathalie Blais said her office managed to open 473 new complaint dossiers up to Dec. 31 last year, in addition to 35 backdated cases left over from previous years, for a total of 508 dossiers processed by the office over the past year.
3,869 complaints in nine years
Among the complaints dealt with in 2021, according to Blais, 61 per cent concerned environmental and ecological issues, as well as problems involving the city’s engineering, public works and urban planning departments.
Since its creation nine years ago, the Laval ombudwoman’s office has processed 3,869 complaints dossiers. The office claims that after being received, complaints are forwarded to city departments within 15 working days. The ombudswoman says some of the dossiers that remain open after several years haven’t yet been resolved because of their extraordinary complexity in certain cases.
Pandemic took toll
The office also claims that in 47 per cent of cases, the ombudswoman can resolve the problem by providing relevant information to complainants, including information on their rights and the city department they should be dealing with.
“The past year was again marked by its share of challenges engendered by the pandemic,” said Blais. “In as much as communication delays are still present, our team works without stopping to reduce them, while at the same time fully playing its role as liaison between the citizens, the city and the elected officials.
Improving city services
“Now that we have a chance to get back together and re-establish dialogue, one of our priorities over the next year will be to contribute to the improvement of municipal services, which is after all at the heart of our mission following the treatment of complaints,” she added.
According to Blais, statistics compiled by her office show that the group asking the most for the ombudswoman’s help is 51 to 65 years of age. She said the office is currently working with an external consultant to develop a plan to better communicate with younger members of Laval’s population so that they are aware of the ombudswoman’s services.
Tree problem resolved
The ombudswoman’s office provided examples of some of the most outstanding cases it dealt with last year. In one, a resident drew the office’s attention to the fact a tree growing in an open public place was creating a safety problem because of its location on a narrow street.
The city’s position was that the municipality’s policy for preserving trees all but ruled out the possibility of cutting down the tree. After several months of discussions between various city departments, including exchanges with affected residents, the ombudswoman’s office finally persuaded the public works department that security ranked higher as a concern than the preservation of the tree.
‘One of our priorities over the next year will be to contribute to the improvement of municipal services’
Some other cases
The office had to intervene in a case where the public works department wasn’t being as transparent as it could be. A resident had made a request for asphalt resurfacing to take place on a certain street. Although public works knew the request was unlikely to be fulfilled, they withheld that information rather than risk the consequences of saying no.
The ombudswoman’s office convinced the department that frankness and transparency are almost always the best policy, as they allow residents at least to understand what is going on.
The ombudswoman says she has a number of goals over the next two years, including a possible revision of the office’s branding and logo, the adoption of a new policy for working with the municipal services using new tools, increased accessibility, and the enlargement of the ombudswoman’s office team. Since the launching of a new ombudswoman’s office website at the end of 2020, they found that 42 per cent of complaints received last year arrived through the interactive form provided on their website.