A Yellowknife MLA hopes to see a bill introduced this fall that would establish an ombudsman in the Northwest Territories.

But the bill is still far from becoming reality, according to Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, who shared concerns about the pace of work.

Our mandate is very clear that it will be developed and introduced by mid-term, which is rapidly approaching,” said Testart, chair of the Standing Committee on Government Operations which is currently reviewing a legislative proposal for ombudsman legislation.

This ombudsman legislation has been very slow going and has met with a tremendous amount of resistance from the cabinet.”

Last February, the 18th Legislative Assembly made a promise in its mandate to establish an independent ombudsman’s office within two years.

The ombudsman’s role would be to investigate complaints from the public and provide oversight of government procedures.

At this time we are working our way through the legislative process with MLAs and look forward to developing a bill for introduction in an upcoming session once we have their feedback,” stated Justice Minister Louis Sebert in a statement to Yellowknifer.

Cabinet spokesperson Andrew Livingstone added the GNWT “is on track to have the legislation developed within two years from the date of the adoption of the mandate.”

According to a 2014 report from the Standing Committee on Government Operations, the NWT is one of just three jurisdictions in Canada that lack an ombudsman. Nunavut and P.E.I. are the others.

The report also shows MLAs have been tossing around the idea of establishing an ombudsman’s office since the 12th legislative assembly – more than two decades ago.

Over the years, MLAs have gathered public feedback, produced reports, carried motions recommending legislation be created and delivered numerous member statements expressing support for an ombudsman.

Never before has the need for an ombudsman been greater,” the 2014 report concluded.

Wendy Bisaro, Frame Lake MLA during the 16th and 17th assemblies, was an advocate for an ombudsman during her time in politics but cabinet was not supportive at the time.

Their response … was it was going to cost money, that we didn’t have the money and also that we had all these other appeal processes and other mechanisms in place that would suffice,” she said. “But it doesn’t cover everything.”

She said there is no central place residents can go to seek help with a problem.

The territory has reached a point where it needs an independent arbitrator, she added, as the government has taken on greater responsibilities as a result of devolution.

She and Testart aren’t the only ones concerned.

Last month, the family of 19-year-old David Vinnicombe, an Australian man who died on the job in Inuvik last June, met with the justice minister to encourage him to take action.

They flew from Australia to speak at Yellowknife’s National Day of Mourning for workers injured and killed on the job, where they told Yellowknifer the NWT’s system for dealing with workplace deaths needs improvement.

They called the lack of an ombudsman in the NWT a “fundamental flaw.”

Testart said establishing an ombudsman’s office will improve accountability.

When citizens are looking for an advocate or are frustrated with government policy, they don’t know where to turn,” he said. “Having a single point of entry is only going to improve the ability of our government to deliver on public services to the population in a way that’s fair and unbiased.”