The B.C. Ombudsperson’s office received 8,400 complaints and enquiries in 2017-18, a 10-year high in dealing with people’s allegations of unfair treatment by the B.C. government.
They range from a trapper reporting that the forests ministry had given another trapper an overlapping Crown land territory, to complaints from provincial prison inmates about their treatment, to claims of unfair treatment by local government.
Several cases summarized in Ombudsperson Jay Chalke’s annual report, released Monday, involved B.C.’s Medical Services Plan payments, a complex system that the province is on the way to replacing with a health payroll tax. Administration of Canada’s only medical service fee has been a major expense for the province, even after it was contracted out to a U.S. firm a decade ago.
The complainant’s medical coverage was reinstated after Chalke’s office intervened to determine he had resumed making MSP payments, but his coverage was cancelled automatically because he had left the country for two years. He also received coverage for a $159 bill for medical lab tests.
“What I see, and what I think our work proves, is that public authorities usually want to make things right,” Chalke said. “Sometimes they need to be nudged or reminded – sometimes more than once.”
The Ombudsperson’s office is empowered to deal with problems in provincial ministries, Crown agencies such as ICBC and local government.
• An ICBC customer was notified of a large increase in her coverage because of two accidents in a short period of time. She complained to the Ombudsperson that she had one accident, not two, and that the second claim may have been a case of identity theft after she lost her wallet. The increase meant she couldn’t afford to keep driving.
ICBC concluded there was sufficient doubt about the second claim, and hired more investigators to keep up with the increased workload as accident claims have risen sharply in recent years.
• The office received 682 complaints about local government treatment in the year ended March 31. One involved a manufactured home park operator whose tenants paid their water and sewer bills directly to the Village of Canal Flats. The owner was sent a bill for unpaid charges to various tenants, receiving a refund of $3,786 after the Ombudsperson investigated the case.
• Another Ombudsperson complaint resulted in B.C. Transit enforcing its rule that bus drivers should announce their next stops for people with visual impairment. The rule stemmed from a 2014 Human Rights Tribunal settlement.