South Okanagan residents complain. A lot.
So much so, the ridings of Boundary-Similkameen and Penticton were the top two sources of complaints received by the Office of the Ombudsperson for B.C. during the fiscal year ended March 31, according to the agency’s latest annual report released Monday.
The report, which lists the number of complaints by provincial electoral area, shows Boundary-Similkameen topped all others with 159.
Second was Penticton with 106. Victoria-Beacon Hill, with 103, was the only other of B.C.’s 87 ridings to crack triple digits.
But Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson says many of the complaints in her riding are related to the Okanagan Correctional Centre, which recently opened.
“I think if you were to remove the prison-related concerns from the ombudsperson’s yearly report, our numbers would be comparable to the rest of the Province,” she said.
“I think the first couple of years of having a new entity — prison — creates worry until the kinks get worked out,” she added. “There was fear that I believe was unfounded about the South Okanagan being over run by criminals getting out, etc.
“The Staff at the prison worked very hard introducing the community to what a prison was like inside and out before the opening.”
Ms. Larsen’s analysis was confirmed by the Ombudperson’s office.
“As we look through our statistics, the increased numbers for your area look to likely be due to complaints about the Okanagan Correctional Centre,” ombudsperson spokeswoman Sara Darling said in an email. “We received 69 complaints about the centre last year.”
Next on the list was income assistance matters, which generated 14 complaints, followed by the City of Penticton, which attracted 10.
By comparison, the City of Vancouver, with a population about 20 times greater than Penticton’s, was the most-complained about local government in B.C. with 39 grievances.
All told, complaints to British Columbia’s ombudsperson spiked to a 10-year high in 2017-18, and most of those grievances originated with the two government ministries that provide services to vulnerable people.
Ombudsperson Jay Chalke said in his report that his office received 8,400 complaints over the past year from people seeking fair and reasonable treatment by provincial and local governments.
He said the highest numbers of complaints involve the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Mr. Chalke said the Social Development Ministry received the most complaints at 625, but he’s hoping the introduction of a poverty reduction strategy later this year will address fairness issues.
His report highlights a case in which a woman who had been receiving medication free of charge from an unidentified hospital within the Interior Health region was suddenly told she’d have to start paying.
After complaining to the IH Patient Quality Care Office, the woman, who survives on a disability pension, had her free medication reinstated, but was denied a refund. After complaining to the Office of the Ombudsperson, IH reversed course and issued the woman a $700 refund.
— With files from the Penticton Herald