PORT HARDY—The office of British Columbia’s ombudsperson is supposed to help residents in all corners of the province. This week, it got to one of those corners for the first time in 12 years.
“This is one of the ways we make ourselves available to the people who are not in the larger population centres,” said Ombudsperson Kim Carter, who visited the North Island Monday and Tuesday to kick off a weeklong tour of upper Vancouver Island. “Two or three times a year we go to different parts of the province. We have to make an effort to show we offer fair treatment on our tours.”
The ombudsperson’s office is an independent office of the legislature located in Victoria. It is charged with ensuring fairness to citizens in their dealings with public agencies from provincial ministries to crown corporations, local governments, school districts, colleges, universities and others. Complaints and inquiries are logged with the ombudsperson’s office, which can investigate, mediate, make recommendations and look for fair resolutions.
Carter began this week’s tour Monday in Port Hardy, where she met with local authorities under the jurisdiction of her office while staff interviewed complainants who had previously scheduled local interviews.
She appeared before Port McNeill Council Monday evening and remained in the town Tuesday before moving on to continue the tour with stops in Campbell River, Powell River and Courtenay/Comox.
“People can raise their concerns any time by calling our 1-800 number, filling out an online form or sending a letter,” said Carter. “But there are issues that exist in Northern Vancouver Island and Northern B.C. that come as a result of dispersal of the population and less access to services than people who live in population centres like Victoria and the Lower Mainland.
“It’s useful for us to come and see them first-hand.”
This was not Carter’s first visit to Port Hardy. When she and her husband lived in Ontario they took driving vacations across the country, and at one point rode the BC Ferry Queen of the North between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert.
But two of her staff were making their first visit to the North Island, and this was Carter’s first professional visit since being appointed by the Legislative Assembly to a six-year term as ombudsperson in 2006.
She became the first ombudsperson returned for a second term in B.C. beginning in 2012, and it’s not the first time the former defence counsel and prosecutor has been a trendsetter. While serving in the Canadian Forces in 2002 she was appointed the country’s first female Chief Military Judge and held the position until she retired from the forces in 2006.
Carter’s North Island tour was a whirlwind affair that offered little time for rest or sightseeing, but she feels the trip, and all her office’s rural tours, are well worth it.
“It’s helpful for us,” she said. “It gives us an appreciation of the challenges people face in these areas.”