Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act

An Act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

Sponsor

Denis Coderre  Liberal

Status

Not active, as of April 20, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

December 13th, 2011 / 4:30 p.m.
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NDP

The Chair NDP Pat Martin

Thank you, Peter.

Thank you, Mr. Dion.

The next round is the NDP's round, but I have asked to share a couple of minutes, as the chair's prerogative, because I will confess a particular interest in this matter. In fact, over ten years ago my dear friend, the late Reg Alcock, and I worked on this very committee in trying to form Bill C-25.

My concern now, Mr. Dion, is that I was on the committee when Christiane Ouimet sat where you're sitting now, and she sounded pretty good too. We all approved her with some enthusiasm. In actual fact, we failed whistle-blowers profoundly. I mean, as much courage as it takes to be a whistle-blower...we promised them a safe place and we failed them, and it infuriates me, having been dedicated to this issue for as long as I have.

I have a letter here that was written to me by a former integrity commissioner, Mr. Keyserlingk. He says, “...I am frankly appalled about the government appointment yesterday...”--this was a year ago--“of Mario Dion as interim PSIC...”. Nothing to denigrate the qualifications of Monsieur Dion, he says, but he believes that once again we have appointed a senior manager, a deputy minister from the public service, and in a six-page letter he goes on to explain why that is a disastrous idea.

The only empirical evidence and the only actual experience we have of appointing a senior public servant to this position has been a catastrophic failure, and may have poisoned the well for a generation of public servants. Because who would come forward now? Let's say you're lying awake at night as a public servant who has some knowledge of some wrongdoing and asking, “Should I risk my family's future and my income by coming forward and telling my story, or should I just zip up, shut up, and stay quiet?” They look at what happened to those 220 or 230 people who did come forward--they got screwed--and if I were a public servant, my conclusion would be “I think I'd better just shut up, keep doing my job, and let this wrongdoing continue”.

It may take a generation before public servants can actually trust your office.

I know that's more of a comment than a question, but I am really, really concerned that we're ignoring the advice of a former integrity commissioner, even though I have no problem with your qualifications or your integrity as a person, and I'm sure you were an excellent public servant. Maybe it's just a serious mistake to appoint a senior public servant. I mean, those are your friends who you have to rat out. If somebody comes to you and says he knows a deputy minister over there in the Department of Justice who is taking the car home on weekends, that's the guy you used to work with.

SupplyGovernment Orders

May 13th, 2004 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the debate today and have attended the public accounts committee on a couple of occasions to listen to testimony and to observe the committee in discharging its responsibilities on this important matter. I did that because, having been on the government operations and estimates committee, I was intimately involved in the George Radwanski case, the former privacy commissioner, who subsequently was found by this House to be in contempt of Parliament. There is no doubt that there were two different approaches as to how to proceed on these matters.

I want to add my contribution to this debate from a perspective of my background and the fact that I am also an elected person and feel very badly whenever there is a problem in terms of the mismanagement, misuse or waste of taxpayer money.

I am a chartered accountant by profession and I spent a number of years with Price Waterhouse in the auditing business. I was also in corporate life for some 23 years and for about 5 or 6 of those years I had responsibility for the internal audit function. I am fairly familiar with the scope of the work that is done within those functions.

I simply want to bring to the attention of the House that even within the chartered accounting profession, some years ago the audit opinion, which auditors give, was changed substantively from when I first wrote my exams and its history of what the audit opinion said. The substance of the change has to do with the fact that the financial statements are the responsibility, the property and the representation of management, and that the auditors do not take responsibility for anything they may not have found, such as fraud, mismanagement, or whatever. The auditors' job is not to detect, but should they detect, they must report in a fashion that would result in corrective action.

However the onus and the responsibility to detect is not the auditors. They are not opining on the statements on anything other than what has come to their attention. It really is the management. With regard to the sponsorship program, I think management is at the centre of the issue. How were the funds managed?

I can also comment on this whole matter from the standpoint that in September 2000 I was appointed the parliamentary secretary to the then public works minister, Alfonso Gagliano, and subsequently, his successor, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, and I carried on until January 2003 with the current finance minister who was then in that portfolio.

I want to comment on the actions that were taken by the current finance minister because I think members and the public should know that the government did not wait until there was an Auditor General's report to lay out matters. There was an internal audit that came forward in the year 2000. In fact, the internal audit report was published and available on the government website. All the findings of the internal audit, in which they identified management control problems and other aspects that had to be addressed, were addressed.

The current finance minister, who was then the minister of Public Works and Government Services, took charge. First, he froze the program until he could get a handle on the situation. He then came to the House and said that there were three particular items. He made the representation to the House that if there were deficiencies in the management controls surrounding these matters they would be corrected. As a consequence of the internal audit and the work that was done, changes were made starting right back in 2000.

The then public works minister said that if there were any allegations of wrongdoing they would be referred to the proper authorities for investigation, and indeed there were. I was parliamentary secretary at the time and I think there were seven referrals to the RCMP for investigation. Charges have been laid pursuant to those investigations that started back then when that minister made the representations and the commitment to the House.

He finally said that if there were any overpayments or improper payments for work not done, that we would take every possible step to recover those funds. This is responsible management.

I always tend, as an auditor and as a chartered accountant, to assess management, not only from the standpoint of how it handles matters that are going well, but how it responds when things are not going well. When there are problems, does management take remedial actions? Does it take charge of the situation? Does it put into place the kinds of action plans that are necessary to ensure that we mitigate any damage that is being done, and that it puts into place the controls that are necessary so that it would preclude the possibility from this kind of thing from ever happening again.

That is responsible management and I believe that the assessment of the House, of the public accounts committee and, I am sure, of the judicial inquiry will be that the government took all appropriate and necessary steps to address this in a sound, professional and good management practices way.

Yes, charges have been laid against two individuals. The public and the House are aware of the details as they have been widely published. Does anyone remember Bre-X, Enron and even Nortel? We can all think of the list of companies, corporations, organizations and NGOs where there have been problems.

We are talking about human beings and in some cases people have taken advantage of the opportunities provided within their responsibilities to do wrong. It is going to happen and we understand that.

However if we were to implement a program and put in controls that would give a 100% guarantee that something like what has happened with regard to sponsorship could never happen, the program would be so inefficient government would be spending $10 to save $1. It makes no sense. It is like asking people to check everything at the border to ensure that not one handgun crosses that border because we know so many handguns come across.

If we were to introduce programs and measures to do the kind of checking that would be necessary to stop every single handgun from coming into Canada, we would shut down the economies of two countries. Seventy per cent of our export business goes across that border.

If we were going to stop that commerce velocity to achieve another objective, we would find that the cost would be far more. As an auditor, as an accountant, as a parliamentarian and as a human being with some common sense, I would want reasonable measures put in place to properly discharge our responsibilities, understanding that there would be no 100% guarantee. There is never a 100% guarantee.

I just want to remind the House of some of the measures that were in the last report of the Auditor General. First, to establish an independent commission of inquiry. The government has done that.

Second, to appoint a special counsel for financial recovery, and, where it is possible and with all the tools to recover any moneys that were wrongfully disbursed to anyone, to recover those. The government has done that.

Third, to introduce whistleblower legislation by March 31, 2004. The bill has been introduced and it is Bill C-25. I happen to be the chair of the government operations and estimates committee presently hearing witnesses on this bill. It is a very good start.

Further, the government is looking at measures to strengthen the audit committees for crown corporations and the possible extension of the Access to Information Act to crown corporations. That is in process.

There is also the initiation of a review on changes to the governance of crown corporations; the initiation of changes to the FAA, and on the accountabilities of ministers and public servants. Another measure was to allow the public accounts committee to begin its work early, which has been done.

My professional assessment as a CA, my assessment as a member of Parliament who has watched this closely and has been involved intimately in similar matters, is that the government has taken all appropriate steps to mitigate the problem and to ensure that management controls are put in place to deal with it properly, that allocations are going to be properly dealt with and finally, financial recoveries will take place.

Whistleblower LegislationOral Question Period

April 30th, 2004 / 11:30 a.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, last Tuesday in question period I pointed out that Bill C-25 contained no provisions whatever for disciplining persons who engaged in reprisals against whistleblowers. The minister responded by telling me to take a look at clause 9.

Clause 9 of Bill C-25 contains provisions for disciplinary action, including termination of employment, but this is for whistleblowers themselves who make disclosures to the public service integrity commissioner without getting prior departmental approval.

Would Bill C-25 not have mandated the minister to fire Allan Cutler for not asking Chuck Guité's permission to go public?

Whistleblower LegislationOral Question Period

April 30th, 2004 / 11:30 a.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, in committee yesterday a public service integrity officer, Edward Keyserlingk, trashed the whistleblower bill. Among other things, he observed that Bill C-25 was missing an independent investigative body, had no mechanism for reporting to Parliament, and provided no protection against reprisal for whistleblowers.

I ask the minister, will he amend the bill to add these provisions which Professor Keyserlingk has highlighted?

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2004 / 6:55 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-451 is an act to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and to amend the Canada Labour Code. Bill C-451 addresses something very real. Harassment in the workplace is an aspect of wrongdoing in the workplace and/or an aspect of violence in the workplace or its precursor.

The sentiments of the bill are correct. That is why there has been a public service policy for over 20 years that guides the conduct of public employees about harassment between workers, or within a hierarchy, or in a supervisory relationship. The problem comes from assessing whether in the public service the current policies are working or if a formal regime of reporting, examination and remediation is necessary as a distinct system beyond and separate from the range of normal activity of a supervisor and employee relationship.

It is the normal duty of management to create and maintain a safe, reasonable work environment, not only physically but also in the psychological sense. The workplace should not be toxic or dangerous in real terms of physical harm or in a psychological sense. This is the business of personnel administration and the wise management of human resources, but the employer and the employee must both have obligations.

Currently, the situation is that the department deputy head or deputy minister has the main responsibility to deal with the matter of harassment in the workplace. The deputy head may call upon the Public Service Commission to investigate or suggest solutions, or the deputy head may go outside to psychological specialists as contractors who are completely independent. These reports then come back to the deputy head and it is management's responsibility for remediation.

The present private member's bill is within the spirit of the present government policy, but it also sets out a formal regime and makes the Public Service Commission the recipient of reports, the investigator and the one to direct remediation. That particular part may be a mistake and I did try to speak to the Public Service Commission today about that.

However, I like other aspects of the bill that spell out what harassment is and the penalties involved if it is not dealt with. The private member's bill raises the issue of the importance of the subject. The problem around harassment in the workplace, which is most often between co-workers, is likely much more common than the matter that we are dealing with in Bill C-25, which is a regime for reporting an administrative wrongdoing. We are developing a proper regime for reporting wrongdoing. The government's Bill C-25 is currently before the House.

That is where there may be a synergy here. This private member's bill is not going pass, we know that, but the topic is correct. Perhaps what could be done is to expand the definition of wrongdoing within Bill C-25.

Clause 8 of Bill C-25 defines wrongdoing. Of course it talks about the misuse of public funds or a public asset, but it also talks about an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons or to the environment, or a serious breach of a code of conduct established under clauses 5 and 6 of the bill and the taking of a reprisal. That really involves what we are talking about, which is harassment in the workplace.

Clause 8(d) is of special interest, where the health is mentioned and where harassment affects both mental and physical health. It may now already be covered by Bill C-25. Perhaps the definition in this clause could include an expanded definition taken from Bill C-451 so that there is a broader aspect of wrongdoing to be dealt with appropriately within the formal regime of reporting, investigating, remediating and providing a fair process and appropriate confidentiality that is envisioned in Bill C-25.

Bill C-451 on page 2 defines for its purposes psychological harassment. I want to briefly put that into the record. It states:

--any vexatious behaviour in the form of hostile, inappropriate and unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful workplace for the employee; and

(b) any abuse of authority, including intimidation, threats--

It defines that even a single incident of such behaviour that has a lasting and harmful effect on an employee also constitutes psychological harassment.

There is an extensive definition and I am sure there has been some research on that. It may also parallel some legislation in Quebec.

I could envision that elements of this definition perhaps could be included in Bill C-25 where it talks in the definition in clause 8(d) about an act or omission that creates a substantial or specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons or to the environment; or, in clause 8(e) where it talks about the code of conduct which in the public service we already have this code of conduct; or clause 8(f), taking reprisal against a public servant.

There is a parallel here. There is an opportunity for the bill's sponsor to do the necessary background research and prepare a convincing brief. She could bring it to the government operations and estimates committee to see if the members now seized with that topic can be convinced to expand Bill C-25 to give effect to the spirit of Bill C-451.

The government had a policy about reporting wrongdoing which I called a memo policy out of the Treasury Board. It really did not work very well because few public employees had confidence in it. The government brought forward stand-alone legislation to create a defined regime of reporting wrongdoing called Bill C-25. Similarly, we have a 20 year old policy now on harassment in the workplace which is in effect as a memo policy. The member, through her private member's bill, is saying that this harassment policy is not good enough and it also needs a formal regime.

I do not think we should have two separate formal regimes, one for administrative wrongdoing and another for harassment of psychological wrongdoing. It could even be argued that Bill C-25 fully accommodates already the intents of private member's Bill C-451. I say to bring the two together. Maybe that is the way to go, and have the government examine the additions within Bill C-451 and incorporate them into Bill C-25.

There is a precedent for this. I had this done with my own private member's bill relating to the Bankruptcy Act. My private member's bill went through all of the barriers and it was made a votable bill. It amended the discharged list section of the Bankruptcy Act. Later on the government brought in a comprehensive system-wide bill to revamp the whole thick piece of legislation which was a much broader, comprehensive piece of legislation.

I immediately checked the government bill in the specific part that related to my private member's bill. My private member's bill, because it had been thoroughly researched and discussed in that narrow area, was much better than the government version of that particular section. I began to negotiate with the minister. The minister of the day agreed and incorporated my private member's bill as the government provision. I withdrew my bill and went to committee and moved the motion as if it were a government motion. Therefore, the law of the land today in the Bankruptcy Act is my private member's bill as part of the government bill. Synergy can happen where we bring things together.

Perhaps there is something here as well. The committee has been charged with looking at Bill C-25 before second reading. Therefore, it is certainly within the latitude and purview of the government operations and estimates committee to make those kinds of adjustments if it sees fit.

Certainly psychological harassment in the workplace is wrong. Unfortunately, it is all too common, perhaps most often between workers rather than from management in a supervised relationship. Harassment is wrongdoing. There may be an opportunity here to bring matters together.

Everyone seems to agree on the legitimacy of the subject. It is indeed part of the public service policy now. If Bill C-25 can be expanded in a way to actually have the spirit of Bill C-451 put into the law, then I am certainly willing to explore it and give it a most sympathetic ear if it comes to committee.

It is up to the member to do the homework and try to have Bill C-25 meet as much of what is in the spirit of Bill C-451. The member should make the brief, do the homework and come to committee. As the vice-chair of the government operations and estimates committee, I will encourage the member to do so. I promise that the member will have a sympathetic ear from our side.

Whistleblower LegislationOral Question Period

April 27th, 2004 / 2:55 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, prominent whistleblower advocate Ken Rubin said yesterday that the whistleblower legislation, Bill C-25, was a cruel and contemptuous hoax that would accelerate distrust and intimidation, and would end up hurting public employees turned whistleblowers who were doing their jobs.

One reason the bill is so bad is that clause 15 says that “No person shall take any reprisal against a public servant”; however, the bill imposes no penalties whatsoever for violations of this provision.

Will the minister commit today to imposing penalties for the violation of those rights?

Whistleblower LegislationOral Question Period

April 27th, 2004 / 2:50 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, today Ralph Heintzman, the government's top official on the whistleblower file, is reported as saying that Bill C-25 is not a whistleblower protection act at all. He says it is actually an internal disclosure bill designed to impose penalties on whistleblowers in order to prevent departmental reputations from being publicly tarnished. Moreover, Mr. Heintzman feels, as Martha Stewart would put it, that “that's a good thing”.

My question is does the President of the Privy Council agree, and can he explain how the act of reporting confidentially to the public sector Integrity Commissioner could publicly tarnish any reputations?

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

April 20th, 2004 / 3 p.m.
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The Speaker

It being 3:03 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the referral to committee before second reading of Bill C-25.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Business of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 20th, 2004 / 10:10 a.m.
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Ottawa—Vanier Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger LiberalDeputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place between all the parties and I believe that if you were to seek it you would find consent for the following motion:

That the recorded divisions scheduled today at 3:00 p.m. be taken in the following order: first, referral to committee before second reading of Bill C-25; second, the amendment to second reading of Bill C-30, and third, second reading of Bill C-246.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2004 / 12:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-25, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, which has been introduced by the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.

This bill has been made necessary because of the sponsorship scandal and the desire of the public service to say out loud what people have been thinking to themselves for a long time. The problem is that there are serious situations in the public service. I will give examples of public servants who have even lost their jobs because they dared to blow the whistle. That is why we have Bill C-25 before us today.

The incredible thing is that, despite the government's willingness to introduce this bill in the House, if an election is called between now and the end of April, it will, in fact, be impossible for Parliament to pass this bill.

That could mean that, all during the election campaign, if public servants have anything to say about the government's behaviour, they will not be able to make disclosures, or, if they do, they will have no protection under this legislation because it will not have been passed.

Sometimes even we, as members of Parliament, are poor judges. We want to do the right thing and support the public service. The government, probably for good reasons as well, wanted to introduce this bill. Still, I will take the few minutes available to me to speak about the comments made by the Public Service Alliance, the union that fights for government employees. They have some serious recommendations to make about this bill.

One of the major weaknesses seen by the Public Service Alliance is that the public service integrity commissioner proposed in the bill does not report directly to Parliament but to the office of a minister, which will seriously affect the independence of the office and its credibility within the public service.

If ever there were a desire to blow the whistle on government actions, we would have expected the commissioner responsible for hearing complaints to report directly to Parliament. We do, in fact—particularly the opposition members—offer a degree of neutrality, a guarantee for the public servants who make a complaint to the commissioner who, in turn reports to Parliament. It would have been the guarantee of a degree of neutrality in the analysis and examination of a case.

It has been decided by the government that the commissioner will report to a minister, not Parliament. It is already not easy for public servants to make disclosures, but it is even harder if the commissioner receiving the complaints reports to a minister. That minister is, of course, a colleague of other ministers, against whose department the complaint may be directed. This is totally abnormal and something seen nowhere else but here.

The Liberal Party has been trying to demonstrate its transparency for weeks. It has an opportunity to table a bill to help public servants make disclosures, but the commissioner receiving those disclosures will report to a minister's office. This is exactly like the ethics commissioner reporting to the Prime Minister as he did in the past.

We have spoken out about that connection between the ethics commissioner and the PM, but the integrity commissioner who will be receiving complaints from public servants will be reporting to a minister. This is exactly the same thing. What goes around comes around, where the Liberals are concerned.

Once again, I am reflecting the comments made by the Public Service Alliance concerning the fact that the commissioner has only a power of recommendation after carrying out an investigation. The commissioner cannot, for example, order the person making the disclosure to be reinstated in his position or order certain interim measures to protect the whistleblower in certain cases. For example, a person might be transferred to another department for the duration of the investigation. Certain steps could be taken.

So we have a commissioner who can receive a complaint but has no power to reinstate the person in his position . I will look at the case of Alain Tremblay, which is no secret, as he has held press conferences and been interviewed by the media here in the Outaouais.

He is a public servant from the Aylmer sector of the City of Gatineau who had disclosed the wrongdoing of one of his superiors at the Royal Canadian Mint. The individual was living in Quebec but paying taxes in Ontario, where he had a second residence. He had a scheme going whereby he paid rent to one of his employees in Ontario to avoid paying taxes in Quebec.

Consequently, Mr. Tremblay blew the whistle on his supervisor and ended up losing his job over it. That is the reality. Alain Tremblay lost his job and today he is doing everything he can to get re-hired, saying, “Listen, it is not right that I should lose my job”.

With respect to job loss, the government has quite a convoluted way of doing things. Mr. Tremblay was told that, because of cutbacks in the Department of Human Resources Development Canada, HRDC, where he worked, his services would no longer be required.

The Government of Canada has increased public service spending by 39% in the past five years. It has increased the number of employees and Mr. Tremblay, who was a whistleblower, was told there had been cuts in his department. It is not easy for Mr. Tremblay, nor is it easy for the member for Hull—Aylmer, who supports Mr. Tremblay and is calling for an investigation.

The problem in this case is easy to understand. The federal government decided to use strategy and told a public service whistleblower, “Your position has been eliminated because of budget cuts. You cannot stay here”.

In 2002, Mr. Tremblay had received a note from his supervisor saying that he had continued to excel professionally and personally that year. So, he was kept on in 2003. There were notes describing his excellent performance in his file. He is a good employee, but he disclosed a wrongdoing. He was laid off because his position had been abolished and he will never be re-hired. That is the difficulty for all public servants.

Again, public servants in the Outaouais and Ottawa-Gatineau region vote Liberal in election after election. I am 46 years old and I cannot remember a time when public servants in the Outaouais did not vote for the Liberal Party. What does that party turn around and do? It blames them whenever there are problems because politicians mismanaged public funds and they do not know where the money went.

The Liberal politicians blame public servants. And in an attempt to encourage whistleblowing, they tell public servants who voted for them in the Outaouais and Ottawa-Gatineau region for years on end, “Listen, we will introduce legislation to ensure you can disclose wrongdoing”.

Except that the commissioner responsible for handling the complaints will answer to a department, just as the ethics counsellor answered to the Prime Minister's Office. That is the problem for public servants, who cannot believe this and are extremely skeptical. Furthermore, there is no retroactivity clause either. This means that there is no protection in this legislation for whistleblowers making disclosures relating to the past, such as before the sponsorship scandal.

The government should have included a retroactivity clause. But no, this legislation will only apply to those who will report wrongdoings once it has come into effect. Of course, when the time comes to hear public servants and protect them, statements will have been made and the Liberal Party will probably have tried to sweep the whole sponsorship scandal under the carpet.

While we are waiting for the next election, this sends the following message to public servants: “Do not talk to anyone, otherwise you will suffer the fate of Alain Tremblay, you will lose your job. They will manage to put you in a position that will be terminated. They will try to transfer you to another department that will disappear, because they will have decided to make cuts precisely in that sector of the department where you work, to be absolutely sure that you can never report wrongdoings again”.

The Bloc Quebecois will never accept this and it will always fight for the integrity of public servants, of men and women who work hard to earn a living.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2004 / 10:45 a.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, after much delay, the government finally has tabled its whistleblower legislation, Bill C-25 the public servants disclosure protection act, but the bill is so poor it should be withdrawn and replaced with a legitimate one.

I recall when the Liberals were in opposition, they railed against the Progressive Conservatives, outlining the desperate need for such legislation. Once they were in power they forgot all about it.

Years later a timid attempt was made through an internal memo policy but it did not work. Then I managed to get the Treasury Board minister to up the stakes and recognize the memo policy in statute. However, the whole matter clearly needed a comprehensive stand-alone regime with a full budget and a completely independent and powerful authority to investigate and remediate.

The bill establishes a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoing in the public sector and tries to provide for the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoing. The bill fails to deliver. Unfortunately, it took two high profile scandals, the Radwanski affair and the sponsorship debacle, to push whistleblower legislation to the top of the government's agenda.

The bill should bring a culture change. The old poisoned culture became painfully evident during a parliamentary investigation into the conduct of the former privacy commissioner, George Radwanski, who threatened to destroy the career of the rat who exposed his lavish overspending, forgeries and frauds.

My service in the middle of that committee process unlocked the pent up knowledge of many who knew of the multiple wrongdoing. No one had talked up to that point because they were all afraid.

Upon reflection from that experience, I was convinced that comprehensive legislation was needed. Also, the depth and extent of abuses in the current sponsorship scandal of ad scam, the plumbers unit, and the Gagliano papers, underlines the need to encourage a new approach within the public service.

The current integrity officer, Edward Keyserlingk, who has long criticized the policy under which he operates for its toothlessness, says that he expected a lot more from the legislation given the climate in which it was drafted. The bill stops short of giving the new integrity commissioner full investigative powers, including the ability to subpoena and gain access to cabinet documents. In addition, the commissioner will report through a minister rather than directly to Parliament.

We put the matter directly to the government the other day, and I said:

Mr. Speaker, whistleblower legislation must be seen to be trustworthy and workable by the faithful public servant who may need it.

In the bill tabled yesterday, the government still wants to politically control the independent oversight role of Parliament.

Why is the government insisting on undermining employee confidence in this new office by injecting a ministerial filter for reporting wrongdoing?

The President of the Queen's Privy Council, in part said:

--I do not agree with my colleague. The bill does not filter at all. The fact that the commissioner will be appointed by both Houses, the Senate and the House of Commons, I think shows that the position is pretty independent.

I asked further:

--the President of the Treasury Board admitted that he was wrong about being against whistleblowing in view of the Radwanski scandal, but the problem is that we need comprehensive stand alone legislation that creates a real system with officers and a proper budget, and with credible authority across Canada that is separate from politics.

The Treasury Board is the employer of the public service. Why is the President of the Treasury Board not ensuring that employees get everything they need to keep the system honest? Will he provide that?

Well, the minister, the President of the Treasury Board, just sat there in his chair, and again the President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada answered in the following way:

Mr. Speaker, I think the member should read the bill. Not only would we cover all the angles but we would provide all the tools in the budget for the future commissioner to do his job. With all the tools he will have, he will be able to not only go through every department but he will have everything he needs to seek all the information and then to make recommendations.

After that, when we look at the correct situation and it is not proceeding in departments, we are even able to deposit a special report to Parliament. Therefore it is pretty independent. I think the way we have planned it is pretty accurate.

Whistleblower legislation is no panacea to what ails government. Its potential downside is that it offers disgruntled and problem employees with the potential to make unfounded and nuisance allegations against their employers anonymously. However, the commissioner will have the power to vet such complaints in private to decide to proceed, ensuring that frivolous or vexatious complaints are quickly dismissed.

The mere existence of whistleblower legislation, no matter how strong, will not immediately result in a more ethical government and happier bureaucrats. Government needs to be competent in management so that the need for reporters of wrongdoing becomes the rare exception. Canadians should demand and expect line management that does not require reporting to the outside.

The bill does not cover workers in private industry who deal with the government, like the employees of the ad agency so entangled in the current scandals. It applies only to federal employees, with many exemptions. It covers most federal departments as well as crown corporations such as VIA Rail, but excludes police and intelligence officers and members of the armed forces. About 4,000 employees of the House of Commons, many of whom have access to sensitive information, are also exempt. Cabinet staff is exempt--perhaps where knowledge of most wrongdoing would come to light.

However, despite the problems, the legislation is a start. Had it been in place a few years ago, it is possible that the sponsorship scandal, which saw millions in federal funds flow to Liberal-friendly ad agencies, would have been stopped a lot sooner. The few people who tried to speak out about the sponsorship abuse were reprimanded. Even now, one person has had his life threatened if that person dares to talk to my parliamentary committee.

Often it is in the higher levels, where discretionary decision making happens, where the real problems arise. There is no point reporting wrongdoing at first instance to those who are part of the swindle. Independence of reporting and investigation and powerful remedial action are vital elements for this whole scheme to work.

The culture of transparency must come from the Prime Minister so that we can put the access to information office out of business. Each person in the public service must exercise their own self-governance of probity. They will only do this if there is a system-wide culture of openness, where everything is on the open record and transparent and secrecy is accomplished only through a reverse onus process for justified need.

In governments, corporations and other big institutions, there are people who risk all by openly denouncing crooked behaviour. A healthy democracy needs such people and society must protect them.

Bill C-25 was eagerly anticipated and it is dismally inadequate. It would create a public service integrity commissioner who would report through a cabinet minister rather than directly to Parliament. That sabotages both the credibility and independence of the office, in the view of public employees.

Even worse, the bill fails to give the commissioner the right to subpoena witnesses, access cabinet documents or follow investigations into cabinet ministers' offices, the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Communications Security Establishment, or National Defence.

In 1996, a junior manager in the federal public works department went to top executives with alarming information. There was something fishy with his supervisor's oversight of contracts for federal sponsorships which were intended to show the flag in the emotionally charged atmosphere after the 1995 Quebec referendum. What happened? The civil servant was ignored, then demoted and came close to being fired. His supervisor got a promotion.

So the Prime Minister brings in his first bill under his watch and it is a dud. The cabinet caved in to the deputy minister group, which does not want to be second guessed by upstarts. The Prime Minister just cannot get anything right. He finally brings in new legislation that he can honestly call his own, but he gets it all wrong. Canadians do not want an integrity commissioner who sits comfortably in the lap of a Liberal cabinet minister.

I say to the government, will it live up to the democratic deficit promise and let Parliament select, appoint and supervise Canada's first integrity commissioner? Many prominent Canadians with knowledge or an understanding of the importance of an integrity commissioner say the legislation is flawed. Whistleblower legislation should cover all aides to cabinet ministers and the Department of National Defence, the RCMP and all other federal agencies.

Will the government allow the committee to fix the bill and replace its flawed construction and give Parliament the responsibility of seeking out, appointing and supervising an integrity commissioner who will have a real and uncompromised independence in the House?

We want the concept to succeed. The government is going to call an election soon, and it will try to claim it has a bill, but I say it is not worth much. On this side of the House, we are sincere. May we find some on the government side who are as well.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2004 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, good managers welcome whistleblowing. Good managers want to know what is really going on in the enterprises over which they have control, and it is only people with something to hide who resist the introduction of whistleblowing protection measures.

As a way of introduction, the red book of 1993 specifically promised legislated whistleblowing protection, stemming from the outrageous scandals of the Mulroney government where a cabinet minister a week seemed to be hauled off to jail. In this case it was a Liberal government promising measures so that public servants could feel protected in coming forward with information about wrongdoing, and that was 11 years ago.

Now we have the minister with the gall, the temerity, to introduce Bill C-25. Then the Prime Minister in his latest ad scam, which are the television ads now running, has a banner running along the bottom of the ads stating that whistleblowers have legislative protection. It is misleading the public to think that whistleblowing legislation, as they contemplate it, will protect civil servants. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The bill should be called an act to protect ministers from whistleblowers, not an act to protect whistleblowers. It should be called an act to plug leaks, an act to stop civil servants telling what they know about what the government is doing with public finances. If there were any honesty associated with the bill, that is what is should be called.

The minister has a lot something to stand up and tell us today that he is sincerely committed to protection for whistleblowers. The bill blatantly contradicts the recommendations and findings of no fewer than three recent task forces, including the Keyserlingk task force. These are some of the most knowledgeable people on this subject in the country. The leading authorities in the country on whistleblowers have spoken and everyone of them unanimously have said whistleblowing protection will be meaningless unless the whistleblower commissioner or officer reports directly to Parliament.

If nothing else is clear in the bill, it should have been that the newly commissioned whistleblowing protection officer has to report to Parliament. To report to or through a minister, as is the language in the bill, is reporting to the executive of government. It is a 180° contradiction from what was unanimously recommended by no fewer than three independent task forces on the subject, which they have ignored. It is contradictory to no fewer than 12, I believe it is, private members' bills that have been put forward in good faith by members of all parties in the past 11 years, since the Liberal government promised this.

Everyone agrees that there has to be that arm's length independence to give confidence to civil servants who may have knowledge of the maladministration of funds or wrongdoing.

This is a travesty, and it is so clearly just an illusion. This is smoke and mirrors so the Liberals can say to the people of Canada, “We embrace real whistleblower protection,” and they can honestly say to the public, “We have introduced legislation regarding whistleblowers.” They cannot say that they are offering whistleblowers in the civil service true legislative protection because that would be a lie. What they are saying is that they have introduced whistleblowing legislation.

I can tell the Canadian public that this whistleblowing legislation is so flawed that public servants are better off with no legislation than with this bad legislation because it gives the illusion of safety. In actual fact, with the narrow prescribed route that whistleblowers would have to take, they would be better off with no protection at all. They would be better off with the status quo than with this flawed bill. There were so many models from which to choose.

In 1996 a member from the Bloc Quebecois put forward a very good private member's bill on whistleblowing protection. His name escapes me. His model was borrowed from a previous private member's bill. Subsequently, a member from the Alliance and myself both introduced whistleblowing legislation modelled after the same essentially agreed upon process that the leading authorities are now point out was the correct way to go.

Therefore, we did not need another bill to protect ministers from whistleblowers. They enjoy that already. However, now we are given this busy work to keep our committee occupied in trying to craft garbage into something useful. I do not think it can be done. We are not Rumplestiltskins. We cannot weave gold out of straw. We do not have time. This Parliament is in its twilight hours, and frankly it is unnecessary because we all know what needs to be done.

Ask Mr. Keyserlingk, ask the leading authorities around the country how to craft good whistleblowing legislation. They can tell us clearly in 10 minutes. Read any national newspaper in the country. They have done assessments, and in the narrow confines of a simple one column article, they have pointed out everything that is wrong with this bill and everything that could be done to fix it.

I encourage the minister to have his staff read the Regina Leader Post, The Ottawa Citizen, Globe and Mail. Every one of the authorities who have reviewed this legislation point out that it is so fatally flawed it is not only meaningless, it is actually harmful. It is actually detrimental because civil servants will be worse off. It excludes the RCMP.

I think my colleague who will speak later will point out some of the flaws there. We know there are whistleblowers waiting within the RCMP with information that they wish to bring forward, but they do not feel safe under this bill or under the status quo.

I lived through the Radwanski scandal, as a member of the government operations committee. It really drove the message home to me the need for comprehensive whistleblowing legislation when the good people who came forward with information about Radwanski, who came to our committee, showed up with their lawyers.

Honest civil servants in the public service, who come forward and do the right thing by sharing their information with the committee of members of Parliament, feel it necessary to bring their own privately hired legal counsel with them for their own protection. That is so fundamentally wrong. It just breaks my heart to think that is what we have stooped to around here.

Here was a golden opportunity. Finally there was an opportunity to flesh out and to give meaning and definition to what we have been calling for so long. The minister has chosen not to in the most cynical of ways. Not only has he failed to introduce meaningful legislation, he is trying to mislead the Canadian public in the television ads that are running in the country. In the ad the Prime Minister is talking to a group of people in some kitchen. Along the bottom a little banner, like CNN has, says “Whistleblowers now protected by legislation”. That is not true.

The bill will not pass in this Parliament. Even if the bill did pass, whistleblowers would not be protected by legislation. In fact the inverse is actually true. It is a ruse. It is a well orchestrated deception. It is electioneering. It is smoke and mirrors. It is anything but legitimate whistleblower protection.

If the minister is being honest, he will withdraw this bill. He would listen to the Canadian public and to all the authorities across the country who have the answer. He could frankly take good legislation right off the shelf, introduce it and table it before the end of this Parliament, if he were serious.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2004 / 10:15 a.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Canadian Alliance Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to contribute to the debate on Bill C-25, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, commonly understood to provide enhanced protection for whistleblowers in the public service.

In many respects, today's debate is not an occasion to celebrate efforts to foster greater openness and accountability in government as my Liberal colleagues would have us believe. We are first debating this legislation on a Friday, the last day before a two week break, which may be extended if an election is called.

It is true that the government fulfilled its promise made in January that this legislation would be introduced before the end of March. Regrettably, the Treasury Board president also promised that this legislation would not be passed before the public accounts committee had completed its investigation into the sponsorship scandal, not prior to the public inquiry into the same scandal.

The end result is that whatever the benefits of this legislation, and those benefits would appear to be dubious at best, it will not be in place to encourage frank disclosures by civil servants with respect to the past transgressions of senior government officials or ministers. This state of affairs is highly regrettable since Canadians of all political persuasions want to believe that the current government is sincere in its professed desire to root out corruption in government. Public service unions are equally concerned that the changes in government culture that the Prime Minister has widely proclaimed will in fact occur.

For example, following on the heels of the disgraceful behaviour of former privacy commissioner George Radwanski, we learned of the case of Norman Steinberg, the public works official responsible for ethics in his department. He spent $22,000 for an entertainment system for his office, including a widescreen plasma television. He attended 33 conferences that cost $86,000.

As Public Service Alliance of Canada president Nycole Turmel said at the time, unless the Prime Minister puts an end to the free-spending ways of public servants like Radwanski, who is no longer employed, and Steinberg, who continues to be employed, all federal employees look bad. In fact, it is these very employees by way of public sector unions who are leading the way in calling for whistleblowing legislation.

For example, some commentators have criticized the apparent silence of employees in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner during the period of abuses by Mr. Radwanski. Lynn Ray, the president of the Union of Solicitor General Employees, recently wrote to correct public perceptions. As she pointed out:

The problem was not that people did not know of the problems. The problem was that the people who knew could not speak out. Government workers have seen what happens to people who blow the whistle on wrongdoing. Even when their allegations are proved accurate, they still pay a horrible price. The careers of whistleblowers are destroyed and their family lives are devastated.

Whistleblowers perform an important service to the public. Their actions save not only public money. By exposing dangers to safety and health, they save the very lives of Canadians. Whistleblowers should be praised, not punished. They should not pay for their public service by putting their jobs on the line. Employees and the Canadian public need strong and effective legislation to protect those who reveal wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, this legislation does little to effect the Prime Minister's wishes, assuming that he is sincere in addressing government corruption and waste. It also does not address the concerns of employees who want to be protected when they speak out. It is even deficient in the eyes of Canada's first public service integrity officer, noted ethicist Dr. Edward Keyserlingk. Not much has been heard from him since his appointment in November 2001. He currently reports to the President of the Treasury Board.

At the time, the integrity officer was operating under a Treasury Board policy to encourage employee disclosure of wrongdoing. The problem was there were no perceived legislative protections that would protect employees from reprisals.

In addition, as Dr. Keyserlingk pointed out in September 2003, at the time of his first annual report tabled in Parliament through the President of the Treasury Board, he was being regarded in much the same light as the ethics counsellor. He was not regarded as being functionally independent of the government.

Dr. Keyserlingk called for legislation to create a revised agency to better enable the disclosure and correction of wrongdoings in the public service and protection for whistleblowers from reprisals. This same individual called the current legislation before the House a disappointment.

One of the main reasons the legislation is disappointing in the eyes of so many is because the whistleblower is compelled to make his or her disclosures through internal government channels and, in particular, through either a superior or the newly constituted public sector integrity commissioner.

The problem persists. The public sector integrity commissioner will not function independently of Parliament. He or she will instead report through a minister as yet to be designated by the Prime Minister. The deficiency is obvious. If the wrongdoing emanates from or involves the office of the minister, what possible protection is there for a whistleblower?

There has now been testimony from several sources that the sponsorship program was directed by the then minister of public works. There is also testimony that directions to this program were also emanating from the office of the Prime Minister.

As but one example, my colleague from Winnipeg Centre has publicly disclosed information received by him from a civil servant who was told to write a cheque for $100,000 for work he knew was never performed. When the civil servant objected, his superior advised him that they were taking their instructions directly from the PMO and that he should sign it. As my colleague from Winnipeg Centre has stated, we believe it goes to the highest level of the Prime Minister's Office, including the former prime minister.

Consistent with the legislative weaknesses already noted is the fact that whistleblower protection is not accorded to the House of Commons staff, the RCMP or members of Canada's armed forces, among others, yet we know that none of these entities are free from scandal. In particular, we have a recent example from this past January of the very public RCMP raid of the residence of Ottawa Citizen reporter, Juliet O'Neill, seeking information in her possession concerning the Maher Arar case. In that case, Mr. Arar contends that it was the RCMP and related security personnel who conspired to have him diverted to Syria where he spent one year in jail without trial.

The raid on Ms. O'Neill's residence also sends another message concerning the deficiencies of the legislation before us. It does not protect whistleblowers who make their disclosures to the media or otherwise, apart from the approved channels of disclosure, the non-independent public sector integrity commissioner.

Similarly, the stories of a veteran RCMP officer condemned for leaking the allegations of corruption at the Canadian high commission in Hong Kong and a civilian fire chief fired for revealing what he considered unsafe conditions on a Canadian military base in Afghanistan highlight the need for comprehensive whistleblower legislation that does protect those who speak out when they see problems.

What is particularly important under the proposed legislation is that the public sector integrity commissioner would not necessarily be appointed by an all party committee. Instead, we have the potential for the ethics counsellor appointment process where there is no independent review of qualifications or effectiveness.

From examples we know about, we can see that in many respects the legislation will actually discourage whistleblowers from coming forward because the protections available to them are substantially as empty as the ones they have at present.

As one commentator noted, conscientious people who want to serve the taxpayers honestly should have no fear of reprisals at all. The proposed legislation does not provide that assurance.

The kind of environment that punishes people who speak out is not exclusive to this federal level. In my home city of Saskatoon there is a case where a hospital head of emergency medicine was removed from his position after he wrote a letter to the province stating patient care was compromised because of a lack of resources. Is there a connection?

Those types of cases are the reason I am interested in this legislation. We have a real opportunity to set an example that could be followed at other levels of government and administration, and that is very important. Canadians deserve better.

I can only hope that members opposite will agree with this sentiment and work with all members of the House to make the much needed improvement to the legislation before it is subject to a vote.

Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2004 / 10:05 a.m.
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Bourassa Québec

Liberal

Denis Coderre LiberalPresident of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That Bill C-25, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.

Mr. Speaker,Canadians have every right to expect that their government will act in accordance with the highest standards. They must have confidence that their government is acting in an open, honest and transparent manner.

The government is committed to ensuring transparency, accountability, financial responsibility and ethical conduct in the public sector. That is why on March 22 I tabled the public servants disclosure protection act in the House.

Federal public sector employees must always perform their official duties and arrange their private affairs in a manner that bears the closest public scrutiny. The vast majority of public servants do serve Canadians with honour, integrity and excellence.

In some exceptional situations, however, this is not the case. So the government must create an environment in which the reporting of wrongdoing can be made without repercussion for the individual who comes forward.

This bill acknowledges that existing procedures can effectively handle many issues of reported wrongdoing. It also establishes additional support and protection for public sector employees to make good faith disclosures. It significantly strengthens protections available to employees throughout government, including those in crown corporations.

The preamble recognizes that there must be a balance between the public servants' duty of loyalty and their right to freedom of expression. This balance is essential to adopting the right disclosure procedures and justifying their implementation.

The preamble also commits the government to establishing a charter of values of publicservice setting out the values that shouldguide public servants in their work andprofessional conduct.

The law will apply to employees in all sectors of the public service, including the executives in each organization, including the crown corporations.

However, because of their distinct employment status and security concerns, the Communications Security Establishment,the Canadian Security IntelligenceService, the uniformed members of the Royal Canadian MountedPolice and members of the CanadianForces will not be subject to this law. In the case of the latter two groups, however, civilian employees will be covered by the bill.

Nevertheless, these organizations will be expected to establish comparable procedures for their members and employees, including a code of conduct and a mechanism for protection against reprisals. This means that if these agencies do not establish a code of conduct, the Treasury Board will ensure that they implement one in the same spirit as the bill before us today.

The bill requires the Treasury Board to establish a code of conduct for the entire federal public sector. Chief executives may establishacode of conduct applicable to the portion of thepublic sector for which they are responsible, but these codes must be consistent with the one established by the Treasury Board.

The code will also be referred to the committee of the House for examination. So, in order to deal properly with the issue of the democratic deficit both with the framework legislation and the code of conduct, we are committed to having the House committee carry out a thorough study of these two aspects.

Let us look at the definition of wrongdoing. The bill defines wrongdoing as: a contravention of any acts or regulations; a misuse of public funds or a public asset;a gross mismanagement in the publicsector;an act or omission that creates asubstantial and specific danger to the life,health or safety of persons or to the environment;a serious breach of a code of conductandthe taking of a reprisal against a publicservant who has acted in good faith in making a disclosure.

These are clear criteria for disclosure allowing public sector employees to determine misconduct and decide on disclosure.

The bill also sets out how employees can properly make a disclosure and what happens with that information.

First, each deputy head or CEO in the federal public sector must establish an internal disclosure mechanism, including the appointment of a senior officer to take disclosures and investigate possible wrongdoings.

Second, to ensure there is an additional avenue for disclosure in cases where internal mechanisms do not suffice, a public sector integrity commissioner will be appointed by the governor in council. The commissioner will serve for a term of seven years following approval by resolution of the Senate and the House of Commons. This position is similar to the current public service integrity officer, but with a wider legislative mandate.

The commissioner will be able to investigate alleged wrongdoings, including reprisal, and make representations to deputy heads and CEOs on his or her findings. Chief executives and all public sector employees must, and I repeat must, cooperate with the commissioner, and provide him or her with any information, assistance and access to premises required for investigations.

The commissioner will be able to make a report to the minister of the department or to the board of a crown, in cases where a deputy head or CEO does not follow the commissioner's recommendations, or if the commissioner's investigations led him to believe there was a substantial, serious and immediate danger to public health and security or to the environment from an alleged wrongdoing.

If the issue is still not resolved, the commissioner could make a special report to a minister who will be designated by the governor in council. A special report of this kind, like the commissioner's annual report, would be tabled in Parliament.

Let us talk about reprisal protection. Reprisal is defined as disciplinary action against a person because he or she reported a wrongdoing or cooperated in an investigation of wrongdoing. Reprisal can include actions such as demotion, termination of employment, or anything else that adversely affects the employment or working conditions of a person, or even a threat to do any of these things.

Under the proposed legislation, reprisal is defined as a wrongdoing and can be investigated as such. A person who feels that a reprisal has been made against him or her may make a complaint to the public service integrity commissioner or the appropriate board that deals with staff relations, such as the Public Service Staff Relations Board or the Canada Industrial Relations Board. If a reprisal is found to have occurred, these boards would have the power to order that the employee be reinstated in his or her position, if the employee had lost his or her job as a result of reprisal, or be compensated for other penalties or losses.

These are strong measures to ensure that public sector employees can have confidence that reprisal will not be tolerated if they disclose a wrongdoing.

Now, for confidentiality. The commissioner is required to ensure that the right to proceduralfairness and natural justice of all personsinvolved in investigations is respected.

In order to increase the trust of public servants and provide them with the assurance that they can make disclosures without risk and that their identity and information will be protected as much as possible, the commissioner has the capacity of an investigative bodyunder the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

In other words, the commissioner would have some degree of latitude in disclosing information which would identify the person making the disclosure and the person alleged to be responsible for wrongdoings. This is not an absolute latitude, but will enhance confidentiality compared to the present system and increase people's trust of the system.

I would also like to make it clear that the internal disclosure system remains fully operational until such time as the bill has moved through the entire parliamentary process. Employees within the public service can still report wrongdoings to their immediate superior or to the public service integrity officer.

Moreover, the government has changed the internal disclosure policy in order to ensure that no employee would become a victim of reprisals, including administrative or disciplinary measures, for having disclosed a wrongdoing in good faith, in accordance with the policy, or as part of a parliamentary proceeding or an investigation related to the Auditor General's 2003 report.

Increasing confidence, providing protection, ensuring that investigations are held, are essential elements of this bill being presented, a bill that recognizes the integrity of the public sector and provides sound mechanisms for addressing reprehensible acts and protecting whistleblowers.

As hon. members know, the bill is of great interest to the public. There are indeed many well-informed and trustworthy stakeholders. Given the importance of the bill to the future of the federal public administration, I am pleased that my parliamentary colleagues can debate it and examine it from all angles. I am especially pleased at the idea of actively debating the substance and the spirit of the bill.

A lively debate has already begun in the public domain. I would like to address some of the concerns that have been raised recently. These issues include access to the commissioner, exclusions, boundaries of investigation, as well as the independence and powers of the commissioner.

First, employees should normally use, and be able to trust, internal mechanisms before going to a third party, but public sector employees also would have direct access to the commissioner if they believe the nature of their disclosure requires it.

Second, in respect of the excluded organizations, as I explained earlier, these organizations are not exempt from having similar disclosure regimes and protecting their employees from reprisals. This point needs to be emphasized again. Employees in these organizations will have access to a similar disclosure regime.

Third, with regard to the commissioner's ability to investigate wrongdoing outside the public sector, I would like to make it clear that the bill does authorize such investigations. They would be carried out by a competent authority, such as the RCMP or the proposed ethics commissioner, on the basis of information provided by the public sector integrity commissioner.

Another point related to this is that even though the bill applies only to public sector employees, they will be able to make disclosures about those who are not covered by this legislation. They can make these disclosures through the normal channels and will be protected if they do so.

Finally, there has been a great deal of discussion about the independence and powers of the commissioner. It is my belief that the commissioner will have everything he or she needs to play an independent and effective role while at the same time holding government accountable for the good operations of the federal public sector.

The commissioner's appointment will be recommended by Parliament and he or she will report to Parliament.

Consequently, I support the motion to refer the bill to committee before second reading.

Canadians have asked the current government to enhance and ensure integrity and accountability. We have listened and acted swiftly. The government will not tolerate having the improper behaviour of a handful of people overshadow the good work of the majority.

We will keep the promise we made in the Speech from the Throne. We will build upon the integrity, professionalism and impartiality of the public sector. We will promote the excellence and sense of accomplishment of the public service. And we will achieve our goal of having nothing short of the best public service in the world.

Library and Archives of Canada ActGovernment Orders

April 2nd, 2004 / 10:05 a.m.
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An hon. member

On division.

(Motion agreed to, amendments read the second time and concurred in)

Bill C-25. On the Order: Government Orders

March 22, 2004--The President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada--Second reading and reference to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates of Bill C-25, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings.