As of April 8, the NWT officially has an ombud to help people deal with disputes with the territorial government.
The NWT’s first ombud is Colette Langlois, who will be establishing an office in Hay River.
An ombud is an independent statutory officer of the Legislative Assembly, and free from political influence. The office promotes fairness in public administration and investigates complaints concerning GNWT departments, agencies, authorities, boards and councils.
“I think it’s a real privilege to take on this role,” Langlois told The Hub in a telephone interview on April 4. “At any time I think it would be a privilege to take on the role of ombud, but particularly to be the first ombud is really exciting and really inspiring. I think there’s so much potential for this office and I’m really looking forward to serving.”
She hopes to have an office set up in Hay River probably by July.
The new office is being located in Hay River at Langlois’ own recommendation.
She noted that modern communications allow such offices to be outside of Yellowknife, and Hay River is known as the Hub for a reason.
“It’s a really good access point,” she said, noting she plans to do a lot of travelling and there are great highway connections to many communities from Hay River.
And she also noted that, while the ombud is independent of the GNWT, it is still a public office and locating in Hay River is an opportunity to promote decentralization.
“And I think it sends a really strong signal that this is a territorial office and everybody should feel comfortable contacting it, and it’s not just for one community,” she said. “It really is for the whole territory.”
A budget for the new office, which will likely have one or two other people in addition to Langlois, needs to be approved by the Legislative Assembly.
Until that happens, she will be in Yellowknife and travelling, including to talk to some other ombuds in Canada, before settling in Hay River.
“I’ll be working remotely, because it’s just me right now,” she said. “I don’t have any staff. So wherever my laptop is is where I’ll be working.
Langlois explained the core of what ombuds do is promote fairness in government.
“So one way they do that is by receiving complaints from the public about if they’re concerned that they’ve been treated unfairly during administrative processes by government or government agencies, and investigating those complaints or trying to resolve them,” she said. “Often the resolution is done very informally. It’s mediation. You don’t see full-blown investigations all the time. It can often be dealt with with just a couple of phone calls, which is really nice. And that’s how it seems to work in other jurisdictions, and I don’t see why it would work differently here.”
And she explained that the other way ombuds promote administrative fairness is by making recommendations.
“They’re not binding recommendations, but they’re, I think, a source of information and support to governments that want to improve their processes,” she said. “There’s also the public education component, which I think is really important.”
Langlois noted that the territorial act creating an ombud doesn’t come into full force right away, and she expects to start accepting complaints sometime in the fall.
Her appointment as the NWT’s first ombud was announced in March.
Langlois grew up in Yellowknife, and served nearly two decades with the GNWT and Legislative Assembly, including as acting clerk for a year and as director of research services for over a decade.
“I’m really looking forward to getting set up in Hay River and to getting to know the town,” she said. “I’ve visited a few times and I think it’s a great community. It will be different living there and I’m really looking forward to it.”