12/07/2012 06:39 EST | Updated 02/06/2013 05:12 EST

Alberta: All We Want For Xmas Is A Calgary Municipal Ombudsman

OMBUDSMAN: The term ombudsman usually refers to an official, appointed by the government or by parliament but with a significant degree of independence, who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or violation of rights by an official body.

An Ombudsman should be arms length, unbiased, impartial and independent with far reaching investigative powers. In the hyper political environment of Alberta, a municipal Ombudsman is essential to a fully functional, fair and effective democracy.

On the issue of an Ombudsman for the City of Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi had this to say:

"A city ombudsman is certainly worth discussing since it's potentially another way to improve accountability within the municipal government. I think we need to carefully consider the ombudsman's responsibilities as well--in the past two years, I've realized how effective the aldermanic and Mayor's offices can be at addressing citizen concerns, so we don't want to inadvertently create more red tape or overlap between them and an Ombudsman's Office."

~Mayor Nenshi

A municipal Ombudsman for Calgary is also an imagineCalgary target, to have been achieved by 2008.


Montreal and Toronto have an Ombudsman's Office for municipal issues.

The Municipal Affairs office of the Province of Alberta has discussed the issue of an official Ombudsman's office for smaller communities.

The Alberta Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) fund is one possible source of financing for a Municipal Ombudsman's Office for communities. Under the operating projects category of the MSI:

"Eligible operating projects include capacity building activities that improve efficiency or effectiveness, municipal services, planning activities, and assistance to non-profit organizations."

Municipal infrastructure need not only be roads, bridges & sewage treatment plants. Democratic & governance infrastructure also contribute to the sustainability of our communities. If Montreal's experience is an indicator of the effectiveness of the Ombudsman's Office, this idea should be given high priority status by Nenshi, Calgary City Council, Municipal Affairs and Premier Alison Redford.

Creating capacity in municipal governance isn't really something the elves can build and throw in Santa's toy bag. It will take politicians and citizens committed to a superior democratic structure to make this one happen. It would be the best Xmas ever if Alberta embraced this exceptional opportunity to craft a truly democratic society.