Public Sector Integrity Act

An Act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Conflict of Interest Act


Jean-Denis Garon  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Third reading (House), as of Oct. 26, 2023

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-290.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act to, among other things, expand the application of the Act to additional categories of public servants, permit that a protected disclosure be made to certain persons, extend the period during which a reprisal complaint may be filed and add a duty to provide support to public servants.
It also makes a consequential amendment to the Conflict of Interest Act .


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


Feb. 15, 2023 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 5:30 p.m.
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Jean-Denis Garon Bloc Mirabel, QC

moved that Bill C‑290, An Act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for being here today.

There is nothing more important for a government than an ethical, competent and responsible public service, and we must value the work of our public servants. Public servants are in the best position to note irregularities in government, in its management of public monies and use of Crown assets, as people here like to call them. Sometimes, out of a sense of responsibility, these officials become whistle-blowers by disclosing wrongdoing. It is an extremely important role. For that reason, we must protect them. We also need to create and enhance mechanisms that these officials can use to disclose wrongdoing.

Currently we have the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. This legislation came about as a result of the sponsorship scandal. We all know that the federal sponsorship program was highly problematic from 1997 to 2001 and caused a major scandal. It was created in the aftermath of the 1995 referendum, when the federal government wanted to have more visibility in Quebec and decided to hang Canadian flags in just about every cultural and social space in Quebec.

Unfortunately, in addition to being fundamentally bad, this program ended up being used as a quid pro quo mechanism. Communications firms with close ties to the Liberal Party would receive huge contracts, and the money would directly or indirectly wind up back in the Liberal Party of Canada's coffers. This undermined taxpayers' confidence in the government and public confidence in government operations.

The whole thing got out of control and naturally undermined the very democratic process that ensures that we are elected to the House and that people trust the process. We are not talking about a scandal involving small sums of money; we are talking about the proven waste of a quarter of a billion dollars of public funds, which led to the Gomery commission.

As members will recall, this resulted in Paul Martin's government being severely punished. It was re-elected with a minority government in 2004. Ultimately, Canadians and Quebeckers decided to toss out the Liberals when they voted in many Bloc Québécois members and gave the Harper government a minority mandate. That government took swift action to protect whistle-blowers in the public service.

Members will recall that one of the reasons the public learned as much as it did about the extent of the sponsorship scandal was because of a whistle-blower nicknamed “MaChouette”. She spoke regularly with journalist Daniel Leblanc, who had to battle in court to protect her identity.

One of the Harper government's first pieces of legislation was the Federal Accountability Act, followed by the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, which came into force on April 15, 2007.

Obviously, the world has changed a lot since then, but this law has not changed and has not been improved, amended or corrected in 15 years. Now the time has come to do the right thing for our competent public servants and protect whistle-blowers.

The objective of Bill C‑290 is to protect public servants who disclose wrongdoing in the public service, and also to establish a process to investigate the wrongdoing. That is very important because we want wrongdoings to be disclosed and we want to put an end to them. We want to have processes to help us do that. The ultimate goal is better management of government resources.

The current act covers many things. It was an ambitious law at the time, and it had good intentions. It described wrongdoing as a contravention of any act of Parliament or of the legislature of a province, or of any regulations, by persons in authority; a misuse of public funds or a public asset; mismanagement in the public sector; an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons, or to the environment, other than a danger that is inherent in the performance of the regular duties of a public servant, of course, because we want them to be able to do their job.

The act covers serious breaches of a code of conduct stemming from the events I just mentioned and, of course, wilfully and knowingly directing or counselling a person to commit any of the wrongdoings I just listed.

It is still a fairly ambitious law with built-in mechanisms. The act created a mechanism for the disclosure process. We want there to be a mechanism. We do not necessarily want whistle-blowers calling journalists in secret and passing confidential documents to them. We want there to be a process, a process that is supposed to protect anonymity and, more importantly, protect public servants from reprisals. The act created an independent institution, the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, which can receive disclosures and investigate allegations and possible reprisals. Lastly, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal was created.

If the act is so great, why did we introduce Bill C‑290?

Again, the principles of the act that has been in effect since 2007 are excellent, but the act has many flaws. They are small flaws, but when you add them all up, they make this legislation ineffective. We have seen it. Since this legislation was implemented, we can count the number of cases where disclosures have gone through the correct process. We can basically count them on two hands.

That is consistent with the findings of the International Bar Association, which ranks Canada at the bottom of the list when it comes to laws that protect public servants who disclose wrongdoing. Canada has one of the worst records in the world in this regard. I will spare my colleagues from having to listen to a list of the countries that rank above us because it is both embarrassing and shameful. When the International Bar Association assessed the Canadian legislation, Canada got a zero on 19 of the 20 assessment criteria. Do members know what criterion Canada did not get a zero on? Just having an act. That is the only criterion on which we did not get a zero. We are not starting from scratch, but we have a long way to go.

Other jurisdictions have led the way on this. The European Union, Australia and the United States have good systems, and we can follow in their footsteps. The point is, things have to change for the better. Taxpayers deserve better.

We do not have to start from scratch either. There was a committee study in 2017. I acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues who worked very hard on that report. They met 12 times, heard from 52 witnesses, received 12 briefs from experts, whistle-blowers and unions, people who know about this stuff, people on the ground. Challenges and shortcomings were identified, and 15 recommendations were issued.

I know that one of the people who made a significant contribution to drafting the recommendations passed away recently. That person was Michael Dagg, and I, along with a number of my colleagues, want to pay tribute to him.

What did we learn from the committee? The committee showed us that there is not enough protection for whistle-blowers in the public service and that public servants lack confidence in the process because of the way it works. They know that mechanisms exist, but since they do not have confidence in where the process will lead and they are afraid that it will end up being very harmful to them, what we end up with is an act that is not used and public servants who do not disclose wrongdoing.

Bill C‑290 addresses these shortcomings and, as I said, essentially seeks to correct the problems with the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

What does this bill do? First, it broadens the definition of wrongdoing. The act covers serious cases of wrongdoing and illegal acts, but it does not cover cases of political interference in administrative decisions, even though it should. If a public servant discloses an incident of political interference, their complaint will simply be rejected. It cannot be processed or even considered by the public servants in the department who deal with complaints or by the commissioner.

However, we need to be able to get to the bottom of things. Under the current legislation, it is impossible to do that when wrongdoing is disclosed. This bill will help to remedy that.

In the current situation, turning to the people in charge of receiving complaints can be extremely formal, difficult and intimidating for a public servant. What is more, the commissioner who deals with these matters has a limited budget. He barely has the necessary resources, expertise, or knowledge of the departments. As a result, often the investigations go nowhere. It is possible to refer the case to the police, but, again, there needs to be an investigation first and that generally does not happen.

Bill C‑290 proposes to allow the auditor general to investigate such cases. Remember that at the time of the sponsorship scandal, it was the auditor general, Sheila Fraser, who helped expose the wrongdoing.

In addition, we want to protect more people. The act currently protects public servants, but it does not protect former public servants who may have witnessed wrongdoing over the years but did not decide to disclose it until later. Furthermore, the act does not protect contract or temporary employees, such as someone who works at CRA for a few months during tax season. These are the people who are most vulnerable in these circumstances, because their employment status is precarious. They can easily become victims of intimidation or reprisals.

At the same time, we need to rebuild trust with the public service. Under the current act, a complaint can be dismissed, even if the wrongdoing is well established, because the commissioner may find that the person reporting the wrongdoing had personal reasons for doing so.

We understand the seriousness of that. Often someone who denounces a wrongdoing did not witness it only once or twice. It was not a quick 15-minute incident on a Tuesday morning. It happens repeatedly for days, for years. It makes the workplace extremely challenging. It is normal for a whistle-blower to become bitter, frustrated and angry, and that can negatively impact the workplace. It is unfair that an assumption about the reasons for a public servant's deep emotions can result in the facts being set aside.

This bill will have a positive impact. As members know, I am a relatively new parliamentarian. I decided to introduce Bill C‑290 as my first private member's bill because I think it is important to introduce non-partisan legislation that is in the public interest. Every single person in this House, no matter their party, their ideology or which side of the constitutional divide they are on, wants public funds to be well managed. We all want Crown assets, federal government assets, to be used properly. We all want taxpayers who submit their income tax returns in April or May to have confidence in the machinery of government.

The main reason I introduced this bill is out of respect for the thousands of professionals who dedicate their lives and their careers to public service, people who devote their time and energy to public service, who truly care about the work they do. If we do not update the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, we are essentially preventing those people from doing their jobs to the best of their ability in extremely important situations. I think our public servants deserve Bill C‑290.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 5:45 p.m.
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Sherbrooke Québec


Élisabeth Brière LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech. He has demonstrated why it is important to examine this issue.

We will soon begin a comprehensive review of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act with the support of experts. We want to ensure that the act effectively protects public servants. We also want to strengthen Canadians' confidence in the integrity of our public institutions.

Does my colleague not think that more work is needed, given the seriousness and scope of this legislation?

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 5:50 p.m.
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Jean-Denis Garon Bloc Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I can assure the House that I am acting in good faith, and I presume the members opposite are doing the same. That is why I hope they will support the bill.

Having said that, I hope it is not a coincidence that when Bill C‑290 was introduced, the government suddenly decided to review that legislation.

The committee that worked on this issue heard from witnesses, made recommendations, heard from experts and worked very hard. It released a terrific, comprehensive report. This bill was drafted, in part, based on that incredible work, which is why I think the government has a vested interest in supporting Bill C‑290 and not rejecting the immense amount of hard work done by the committee.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 5:50 p.m.
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Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for the excellent private member's bill. I also want to thank him for paying tribute to Mr. Michael Dagg, a hero to whistle-blowers in Canada, who, along with Allan Cutler and several others, helped our committee write the gold bar for whistle-blower protection, one that the government has ignored for five years.

What does my colleague think about the government sitting on this report and doing nothing about it for five years, and then proposing to spend millions of dollars over the next three or four more years to study it, rather than bringing in protection for our public servants immediately?

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 5:50 p.m.
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Jean-Denis Garon Bloc Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, since I was not here over the past few years, I will not pass judgment.

That being said, private members' bills are useful. Through these bills, MPs are sometimes able to focus on important legislative aspects with the help of people around them. The government has its hands full, what with the pandemic, inflation and the upcoming recession. That is why I am introducing this bill with a view to serving the public.

I do not want to speculate on why the government did not have the time to make progress, but today, with Bill C‑290, the government has the opportunity to address this issue. If it refuses to support Bill C‑290, I will have good reason to question its intentions. For now, I can only assume and hope that the government will collaborate.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 5:50 p.m.
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Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, I thank the member for Mirabel for introducing this important bill. I think it is very important, especially at a time when we need to regain trust in our institutions. It is a very important instrument that can help build toward that.

I want to ask about the systemic racism that many indigenous peoples, Black people and people in the BIPOC community experience from public servants. Can he see a way for the public servants who are perpetuating systemic racism to be addressed through this bill?

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 5:50 p.m.
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Jean-Denis Garon Bloc Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to be evasive, but I am not going to go into detail in answering my colleague's question because it is a matter that I know very little about. Furthermore, it is a matter that is somewhat peripheral to the bill.

My colleague told us that, to some extent, there is a lack of confidence in our institutions. We have seen that in recent months and throughout the pandemic. It is important that taxpayers have confidence that their taxes are well managed.

It is important that taxpayers see the government not as an open bar, but as a serious institution that has serious processes for implementing serious programs for its population. I believe that Bill C‑290 can make a modest but important contribution to that.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 5:50 p.m.
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Hull—Aylmer Québec


Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise to speak to Bill C‑290, an act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

First, I would like to thank my colleague from Mirabel for introducing Bill C‑290, which is very well written. This is very useful and important work. I think everyone will agree that public servants who disclose serious wrongdoing must be protected.

The question is not if we can strengthen those provisions, but how. Bill C-290 offers some potential steps forward, but it also poses some important legal and operational challenges.

Today I am going to speak about what has been done to better protect whistle-blowers, the upcoming comprehensive review of the act and what needs to be fixed in Bill C-290 to help it create the positive change I know my hon. colleague certainly intends.

The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act promotes a work culture based on ethics and the integrity of the federal public service. Canada's whistle-blowing legislation is one of the various recourse mechanisms available to public servants when it comes to harassment, discrimination, labour grievances and privacy complaints.

The government has made meaningful improvements to the system. We have implemented greater guidance for the internal disclosure process.

We have increased the number of awareness activities and training sessions for public servants, supervisors and managers. We have also improved reporting on the internal disclosure process and founded wrongdoing.

The government has also established a central website as part of the government portal. It will allow Canadians to access information about founded wrongdoing within federal institutions. In his mandate letter to the President of the Treasury Board, the Prime Minister directed her to build on the progress that has been made and to “continue to take action to improve government whistleblower protections and supports”. In keeping with this mandate, we will soon be conducting a comprehensive review of the act, which will include recommendations for possible amendments.

The review will be conducted by a working group of academics, experts and union officials. Their work will take into account international research and the Canadian experience, the report from the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, as well as the debate and testimony on Bill C‑290.

Our intent is to ensure that the law effectively protects and empowers public servants to shine a light on wrongdoing and to help strengthen Canadians' confidence in the integrity of our public institutions. This is what makes the bill before us so important.

As it currently stands, Bill C‑290 contains some positive measures. It would extend protection to cover more public servants involved in reporting wrongdoing. It would extend the period during which a reprisal complaint may be filed from 60 days to one year. It would increase the applications respecting offences under various sections of the act. It would enable the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to disclose additional information in specific circumstances. It would also require a review of the act every five years. These are valuable and important proposals.

The hon. member who introduced this bill is to be commended for the work he did in preparing this bill.

That said, Bill C‑290 also raises issues that have to be looked at in committee to make sure there will not be negative legal and operational repercussions. It is important to note that the purpose of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is to address serious ethical breaches that cannot be dealt with using ordinary recourse mechanisms. It is not designed to deal with all ethical breaches or to replace existing recourse mechanisms meant for issues such as harassment, discrimination, workplace grievances and privacy complaints.

These other recourse mechanisms include those set out in the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act, the Canada Labour Code, the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, the Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Privacy Act and the code of conduct for procurement.

I would also like to point out that the provisions of Bill C‑290 will result in a significant amount of overlap and duplication when it comes to these processes. Consider, for example, the bill's proposal to remove the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner's power to refuse to deal with a complaint regarding reprisals that may be or have been dealt with under another act of Parliament. This change could lead to the use of multiple processes for the same issues by various administrative bodies with different mandates and objectives.

Such overlap and duplication could result in wasted resources. It could lead to inconsistent determinations, differing remedies and duplicating settlements. I doubt that the hon. member had these consequences in mind.

Another example is the proposal in Bill C-290 to include abuse of authority in the definition of wrongdoing. This could lead to overlap with staffing complaints on the same allegations under the Public Service Employment Act. Once again, this could result in the potential for parallel proceedings and multiple decisions on the same matters that could contradict each other.

We need to avoid introducing unnecessary duplication and confusion into the current system. We must be careful not to undermine the value of grievances, which are an important tool for unions in the public sector.

Other provisions will change the degree of severity of wrongdoing covered under the act, opening up the process to the most trivial of misdemeanours, which will clog the system and reduce its effectiveness. Bill C-290 also requires executives to provide support to a public servant involved in a disclosure, which conflicts with the principle of confidentiality.

By including contractors in the provisions, Bill C‑290 could not only result in problematic employment relationships, but it could also encroach on provincial jurisdiction. I have no doubt that that was in no way the Bloc Québécois member's intention.

This bill also removes the discretion of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal to decide whether to add the person alleged to have taken a reprisal as a party. This could in fact expose whistle-blowers in cases where the person alleged to have taken a reprisal does not know who the complainant is.

My colleague has introduced a very important bill. Parliament needs to consider whether the operational concerns I have outlined today can be addressed in committee or whether it would be better to wait until the review leads to more complex reforms.

In closing, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Mirabel for his work on Bill C‑290, and I look forward to the next steps in the legislative process.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 6 p.m.
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Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Mirabel for introducing this bill.

This legislation is very dear to my heart. For close to 15 years I was a public servant at Global Affairs Canada, so I certainly know the importance of this legislation today.

The legislation, as outlined, would amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act to strengthen current whistle-blower protections for public servants. It would expand the definition of the term “wrongdoing”, and it would broaden what is considered a supervisor so that public servants can make a protected disclosure to any superior within the organization. This is very interesting because it means a deputy director can go not only to their direct director but also to the director general, the ADM or perhaps even the deputy minister, so that is a very important piece.

The legislation would extend protection to former public servants, government contractors and all those involved in disclosure. It is very important to me as a former public servant that, if I were called into an investigation, I would have protection under this legislation. It would expand the deadline to file a reprisal complaint from 60 days to one year. That is also very important. As we know, vindication is not always swift. Sometimes these actions can take time, so the fact that there is sixfold greater time frame for this is of much comfort to many public servants.

It would expand the annual report requirements to include the number of disclosures made of wrongdoing, the duration of all open cases and cases closed during the fiscal year, the distribution of cases by region and the distribution of cases by federal departments and agencies. On this side of the House, we love transparency, so the more transparency that is provided to Canadians by those who have called their colleagues to account, the better.

This legislation would also provide fines for reprisal against a whistle-blower, which would increase from $10,000 to $200,000 for indictable offences and from $5,000 to $100,000 for summary convictions. Again, on this side of the House, we are always very pleased to see those who have been determined to have been negligent and committed wrongdoing get more than a slap on the wrist, as we saw, for example, when the former finance minister paid only $200 for not declaring his French villa. We are very pleased to see the increases in these fines.

As I am sure members are well aware, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act was first introduced through the Federal Accountability Act on April 11, 2006, by then president of the Treasury Board John Baird. As my colleagues have alluded to, the initial Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act was introduced under Prime Minister Harper in response to the Liberal sponsorship scandal. Certainly the scandals continued into the future under additional Liberal governments, but that scandal was taking place at that time and this legislation was a response.

I will also note that the member of Parliament for Edmonton West was instrumental in the review, in 2017, by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. He was absolutely instrumental in that review, along with the late Michael Dagg, unfortunately, as well as Erin Weir. We are very grateful for their assessment of the legislation at that time.

As has been mentioned, it was expected that the government would implement these recommendations, but no action has been taken to this point and it does not seem to be a priority of the government. Therefore, I do not blame the member of Parliament for Mirabel for being proactive in presenting this legislation. Unfortunately, it is not the only case where the government has been too slow to act on important legislation. As shadow minister for transport during the pandemic, I begged the government to come up with a plan for the airline sector. It was negligent in doing that, allowing the airlines to recover themselves.

In fact, this past spring and summer when we saw that delays were severely impacting Canadians, the Liberals did not even take responsibility for it at that time. Rather, their Minister of Transport blamed Canadians for still learning how to travel when it was, in fact, the government's inaction with the plan as well as its mandates that created this situation, so too little too late.

Tomorrow we will have the fall economic statement. Lo and behold, recently, we have heard the finance minister say that for every dollar of new spending, they must now find a dollar of savings. Our leader was well ahead of this. He started to talk about inflation two years ago. He came out with a “pay as you go” model long before this. He has, in fact, made it a commitment for Conservatives going into the next election, whenever that is, that under a Conservative government there will be no new taxes and that for every dollar of new spending there must be a dollar of savings.

Unfortunately, another place where we saw the Liberals act too little too late was with the Afghan interpreters and support staff. On July 23, 2021, the Taliban were sweeping across Afghanistan and closing in on Kabul. The minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship at the time announced a special immigration program to bring Afghans and their families who worked directly with Canada safely to our country. At the time he said, “Lives hang in the balance, which is why we’re taking timely and decisive action to support the Afghans who supported Canada”. A year later, those Afghans were still desperate for that timely and decisive action that was promised. Not only did the minister of immigration fail to act quickly, but he was ending the special immigration measures after only 18,000 applications were received.

Passports was another area where we saw the government act with too little effort and too late as thousands of Canadians were denied passports. We heard horror stories in the media of Canadians camping out overnight, sleeping outside passport offices in an effort to get their documents.

Last but not least, the position of ombudsman for victims of crime was left vacant for almost a year. Finally, someone was appointed in September of this year. It is not new that we have seen Liberals replete with inaction and other members of the House must find it within themselves to find legislation to help Canadians. That certainly is the case here.

I will point out that, as indicated by the history of protecting whistle-blowers on this side of the House, the Liberal government has actually been the greatest perpetrator against whistle-blowers. We all remember Jody Wilson-Raybould in August 2019. The report came yesterday and for the second time in just four years, the Ethics Commissioner found the Prime Minister guilty of violating the Conflict of Interest Act in connection with his role in the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal. I quote:

The Prime Minister, directly and through his senior officials, used various means to exert influence over Ms. Wilson‑Raybould. The authority of the Prime Minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson‑Raybould as the Crown's chief law officer.

It sounds really familiar with respect to a couple of things we are seeing in the House right now.

Of course, who can forget the tragedy of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman? The Crown stayed its charge of breach of trust against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman citing that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction in this case. The minister of defence announced that the government would pay his legal fees. That is a small consolation prize. Norman served as the vice-chief of the defence staff until his suspension in January 2017.

There was overwhelming evidence at the time that the Prime Minister and his Liberal government politically interfered in this case and tried to destroy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. As the prosecution made clear, the documents that the Prime Minister and the Liberals were fighting to keep secret from them and Vice-Admiral Norman were the very documents that caused the charges to be dropped. This strongly suggests that the government was deliberately suppressing the evidence in order to maintain a bogus and politically motivated prosecution on Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

In conclusion, I will say that the government has a notorious history, as I have indicated, of just doing too little too late. This is another case where the government has silenced whistle-blowers. On this side of the House, we have always stood up for whistle-blowers. The legislation proves it. Our track record proves it.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 6:10 p.m.
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Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, as pleased as I am to join the debate this evening to speak on Bill C-290, an act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, I am sad I have to be doing it from my home.

I have had to come back to the unceded land of Tseshaht and Hupacasath and the homelands of the Nuu-chah-nulth people to attend the funeral of the Tla-o-qui-aht Chief Muuchinink, also know as Bruce Frank, who suddenly passed away on Sunday. I will be travelling through his Ha-Hoothlee, his territory, tonight to join his family and his community. I will bring greetings from all of us from Ottawa, and condolences to his people. It is a very sad time for the people in our communities and for all Nuu-chah-nulth people. He was a great man who loved his people.

I want to thank the hon. member for Mirabel for bringing forward this bill and prompting this important discussion. It is very important, and I really appreciate his work in doing this.

When the new Conservative leader, the member for Carleton, was a minister under the Harper government, he brought forth legislation that he repeatedly said would offer “ironclad protection” for whistle-blowers in the federal public service. Instead, after 15 years in force, it is clear this law is a complete failure.

I am going to talk about David Hutton, a whistle-blower protection expert and senior fellow at the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University. He recently wrote in The Hill Times:

After studying this system closely for the past 15 years, I have come to believe that it was never intended to protect whistleblowers. It does not look like a regrettable accident resulting in an ineffective system. In reality, it functions as a highly effective, finely tuned offensive weapon against whistleblowers. It lures them into a trap, where their disclosures of wrongdoing are disregarded and buried forever, the promises of protection made to them prove to be false, and their efforts to obtain justice place them on a treadmill of endless, costly and ultimately fruitless rigged processes.

Indeed, after 15 years, the results of Canada’s whistle-blower regime speaks for itself. The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner has found a mere 18 cases of wrongdoing out of more than 1,500 disclosures from whistle-blowers. While 500 whistle-blowers have submitted complaints of reprisals, the tribunal set up to address these complaints has never once awarded a remedy.

In another article, David Hutton wrote, “there have been no happy endings for whistleblowers, who nearly always lose their job, their career, and their livelihood.”

The failure of this law does not just cost whistle-blowers. It costs all of us when wrongdoings and mismanagement are allowed to continue unchecked. We see this all the time in procurement, and the failure for whistle-blowers to be able to come forward. I will cite one, which is the disastrous Phoenix pay system. It was supposed to save money, but it has resulted in at least $2.4 billion in unexpected costs so far. It is an example of what can happen when there is a culture of fear in the public service.

This started under the Conservatives, and it has carried on under the federal Liberals. It is unacceptable. That culture of fear is reflected in the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner’s own findings. In March 2022, the Office published a report it commissioned entitled “Exploring the Culture of Whistleblowing and the Fear of Reprisal in the Federal Public Sector”. The report was based on focus groups drawn from a selection of departments, and it echoed the findings of similar surveys conducted in 2011 and 2015. This latest report found that fear of reprisals remains a major concern in the federal public service.

It also contained some other concerning findings: first, that most workers and managers surveyed did not know of the office’s existence; second, there is increasing disillusionment and cynicism about whistle-blowing; and, third, increased activity around whistle-blowing, such as awareness raising and education, is seen mainly as window dressing instead of actual change. We could make a long list here.

It is disappointing to read these findings in 2022. The need for change in how we deal with whistle-blowers has been well known for years. There are serious deficiencies in the existing act, including a narrow definition of wrongdoing and a focus on procedures for dealing with allegations rather than protecting whistle-blowers.

In 2017, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates tabled a unanimous report recommending sweeping changes to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. This report was prepared at the request of the Treasury Board to fulfill the requirement for statutory review that should have been conducted five years earlier. It sounds familiar. It has been five years since, and the government has not implemented the legislative changes the committee recommended, and we heard the member for Mirabel talk about it earlier. Instead, in the most recent federal budget, the government committed $2.4 million over five years for the Treasury Board Secretariat to launch a new review of the act.

It is a positive development to see the federal government finally acknowledge the need for legislative reform, but I am concerned whether there is genuine political will to move forward and make real changes or if this is simply a face-saving exercise. As the member for Mirabel talked about, the government did not even start this until Friday, just as this bill came up for debate.

It reminds me of how the government acts suddenly when private members' bills come up, like my bill, Bill C-216, on substance use. The government did nothing on the Province of B.C.'s request for an exemption for people who are caught with a small possession of substances to not be criminally charged. The government announced that B.C.'s exemption would be granted the day before the vote on my bill. It is just all too familiar. I have seen this happen a lot.

To get back to the bill, its latest review was likely prompted by a 2021 analysis by the International Bar Association, which compared countries with whistle-blower protection laws and ranked Canada as tied for last place. This is an international embarrassment. It is about transparency and trust, and it is a clear call for action, yet in September, Canada failed to send any representatives to an International Labour Organization meeting to discuss the protection of whistle-blowers in the public sector. Surely some helpful information could have been gleaned from this meeting to inform the government's new review. It could have gained a lot.

Again, I am glad that the member for Mirabel has brought forward this bill, which acknowledges the failure of the current act and will hopefully help generate momentum for much-needed change. My office has engaged with public sector unions regarding the bill. The general sentiment is that this is a step in the right direction, but further changes will be required to truly protect whistle-blowers and the Canadian public.

The bill does not address all of the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates in 2017. However, it does propose some significant improvements that are worth noting.

The bill would expand protections to more people, including contractors and former employees, and cover more types of wrongdoing, including political interference. I believe the bill has merit and should proceed to committee where members can hear from public service workers and experts and see if there are opportunities for amendments that could offer more protection for whistle-blowers.

I will note that I do not believe the Treasury Board's new review of the act should preclude moving forward with improvements now. It is not clear when this review might be completed, but it is clear that Canada's whistle-blower protection regime is broken and is in desperate need of reform to protect brave public service workers and the Canadian public who disclose wrongdoings.

In 2015, the Liberals promised that transparency would be a hallmark of their government, but that promise has fallen to the wayside, just like the Conservatives. Under the frequent cloud of scandal, I question whether the government is truly motivated to improve protections for whistle-blowers who could shine a light on government wrongdoing or mismanagement of public funds.

In closing, I want to thank the member for Mirabel for bringing the bill forward, and I look forward to engaging in further debate on this issue.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 6:20 p.m.
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Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, any self-respecting country must have the means to ensure that public funds are used properly, not diverted, not doled out to cronies and not used for any other wrongdoing.

After the sponsorship scandal, Stephen Harper's government enacted legislation to protect public servants who disclose information. We must remember that the sponsorship scandal was only brought to light because of a whistle-blower known as “MaChouette”. People had to go to court to keep this individual's identity secret. Let us keep this in mind, as it is important.

Without that individual, it is very likely that the sponsorship scandal would never have become public knowledge and that these kickbacks and this program might possibly have still been ongoing. Thanks to this individual and the Gomery commission, we learned that the amount siphoned off by the sponsorship program was $250 million. What would that amount be if “MaChouette” had not blown the whistle? It would be an enormous amount of taxpayers' money.

In order to encourage public servants who witness questionable practices in government to report them, an act was passed to protect them. Does it really do so? The answer is no, and it is precisely because the act is flawed that my colleague from Mirabel introduced Bill C-290, an act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

I would like to remind members of the objectives of the act, give a short list of reasons why the law is basically ineffective and provide a quick explanation of the corrections that Bill C-290 makes to the legislation in place.

The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act has two objectives: to protect public servants who disclose wrongdoing in the management of the state and to implement a process for investigating such wrongdoing and help put an end to it.

I want to be very clear. Most public servants are basically honest. It only takes one person with questionable practices to tarnish the reputation of all public servants. If such a person exists, they need to be found and reported. The entire state suffers the consequences of a bad reputation.

Public servants are aware of all that. Nevertheless, there are people in our society, as in any other society, who pay little heed to these considerations and who may feel untouchable or undetectable. Fortunately, only a small minority of these people among the hundreds of thousands of our public servants have no qualms about diverting hard-earned taxpayer money for their own benefit or to do what they think is best.

This very hierarchical system—I would even say there is a code of silence—and competition ensured, and probably still ensure, that honest public servants kept quiet, even when they knew that a colleague or a superior was breaching ethical, or even legal, boundaries. They kept quiet, and continue keeping quiet, for fear of reprisal. If they blew the whistle, they would be pressured. Some fear this pressure to the point of getting sick or being forced to resign. These are examples that unfortunately I have heard from former public servants who are now retired, who wanted to improve something and blow the whistle on a particular situation and who experienced the pressure I just mentioned.

The 2007 act was necessary to protect the people who work for the public, but it also needed to be drafted in such a way as to prevent workplaces from becoming an environment where everyone suspected everyone else of wrongdoing. Instead of creating toxic workplaces we needed to create collaborative places where it was clear that if something was wrong, someone would do something about it. However, in wanting to protect the balance, the legislation went too far and became unworkable.

When I was a teacher and we had to implement a rule, one of the first questions I would ask myself was whether it could be enforced. I might have the best intentions in the world, but if I could not enforce the rule or if there were no consequences, the students would not be fooled and would realize it at some point. They would find the loopholes and skirt the rule. It is the same thing in the machinery of government. That is what happened with the existing legislation. The government enacted a law without having the ability to properly enforce it and without making it clear that if there was a problem, there would be consequences. That is what is missing.

I will give an example to support my argument. In 15 years, the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner has officially investigated only eight cases, and none of these led to a whistle-blower being protected or resulted in an investigation of wrongdoing.

Furthermore, the International Bar Association has compiled about 50 whistle-blower laws. It has ranked countries that provide the best protection for whistle-blowers. On a list of 20 criteria to be checked, Canada has only checked off one, the fact that it has a law. That is it. Botswana, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries are ranked higher than we are. We should be looking at best practices, such as those used in the European Union, Australia or the United States.

As my colleagues have also mentioned, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates issued a report in 2017, if I am not mistaken, and the recommendations in that report have not been followed. We are still waiting. That is what my colleague's bill will do. It will make that report come to life and, more importantly, it will enable public servants who see wrongdoing to be truly protected.

Bill C-290 is designed to give the act some teeth by proposing a series of remedial measures. I will not go through the whole list. When I look at a bill, I take the original act and the bill, and I note everything that is different, everything that has improved, everything that has been taken out and everything that has been added. It takes hours, so I will not put my colleagues through that. I only have ten minutes. I will try to be brief.

First, the bill broadens the definition of wrongdoing. For example, the original act considered only serious wrongdoing. What does “serious” mean? It is a bit unclear because it can mean different things to different people. For example, to me, theft is theft, even if it is something small. In other words, wrongdoing, whether major or minor, is wrongdoing. It is serious to me, but the act does not specify exactly what the word “serious” means. Now the word “serious” is going to be taken out. If a person witnesses a wrongdoing, it is a wrongdoing and must be dealt with. There is no distinction between minor and major wrongdoings. I do not know if everybody sees it that way, but I hope so.

It also introduces the notion of political interference. Next, it corrects something that does not make sense, because, in the case of a major incident, the existing act states that the department must investigate itself. Bill C‑290 would amend the act. That part did not make sense to me because, if a member of society commits a wrongdoing, that person does not get to investigate their own actions. That is the police's job. The act asks the department to investigate itself. I have a problem with that. Bill C‑290 fixes that.

In conclusion, to regain the public's confidence, the government and its public servants must be exemplary. In order for that to happen, public service employees need to feel confident about disclosing anything they consider to be wrongdoing, and there have to be meaningful consequences following these disclosures, not only for public servants, but also for contractors and former public servants who may have kept quiet for a long time.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

November 2nd, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from November 2, 2022, consideration of the motion that Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

February 9th, 2023 / 5:15 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I think it is important to take a brief look at the summary of Bill C-290. It proposes to expand the protections of the PSDPA to additional categories of public servants, permit that a protected disclosure be made to any supervisor, add a duty to provide support to whistle-blowers and repeal sections of the act that prevent overlap with other recourse mechanisms and provisions that set out the standard of serious wrongdoings.

I want to highlight for members the importance of whistle-blower legislation. I had an opportunity here in Ottawa in the past and in the Manitoba legislature to talk about the importance of enabling whistle-blowing and enhancing legislation where we can. We know that the government has been working with stakeholders regarding how we can improve legislation, which is a process that has been under way for a while now. I do not necessarily know all of the details of it, but I do know how important it is that we recognize this particular process and, at the very least, acknowledge those who have put in so much effort to bring us to the point where we are today.

The legislation we are talking about, I would suggest, has a number of concerns within it. At the very least, if the legislation were to go to the next stage, no doubt it would require a number of amendments.

Our civil service puts in a phenomenal effort in many different respects. It was not that long ago that we turned to our civil servants and said, when going into the pandemic, that we needed to ensure we could develop the types of programs that would be there for Canadians. I want to acknowledge the types of efforts that were put in, and then at the tail end, I will talk about why it is important that we have whistle-blower legislation at the provincial and national levels. I will start by giving credit where credit is due.

When we went into the pandemic, there was no such thing as a CERB payment or a program that would provide hundreds of millions going into billions of dollars to Canadians. Virtually from ground zero, civil servants stepped up on a program of that nature. Earlier today, we talked at great length about the wage subsidy program. Again, it was civil servants who stepped up to provide that program. In general, the vast majority of things that take place within our civil service support Canadians seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

If one wanted to illustrate how effective our civil servants were, and still are obviously, in the creation of the programs I just referenced, we can put it into perspective: Nine million-plus Canadians received benefits, and none of that would have been possible if not for our civil service. It provided the financial resources that were necessary for people to sustain themselves. We can talk about the tens of thousands of businesses, some of which were highlighted earlier today and the CRA will follow through on, that benefited from the efforts of civil servants providing the programs and processes necessary to sustain companies and protect jobs so that Canada would be in a much better position.

The speaker before me on this legislation made reference to the issue of immigration. We have civil servants around the world who are there every day to ensure that we continue to grow and prosper as a nation through immigration policies. As immigration grows, the demands on those civil servants continue to grow and we provide the finances.

It is not all perfect, as we know. There are ways in which we can look at improving the system. I want to relay some statistics in regard to issues. For example, from 2007-08 to 2021-22, there were 161 internal disclosures that led to a finding of wrongdoing and 443 internal disclosures that led ultimately to corrective measures. PSIC had 17 cases that led to a finding of wrongdoing and corrective measures, along with two cases that led to corrective measures without finding any wrongdoing. In fact, eight cases were referred to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal. There have been no findings of reprisal. I think that is really important.

This is the reason why we look at whistle-blower legislation and how we can improve upon the civil service. This is how I ultimately view it: How do we enhance what we already have as a world-class civil service? One of the ways we do that is by protecting those civil servants who are put into positions where there is a moral obligation or, at times, some form of quasi-legal aspect of having to report on something, so that there are no reprisals as a direct result of having to make that claim.

From 2016 to 2021-22, there were 505 reprisal complaints received by PSIC, leading to 62 investigations that were launched, with 22 of them being resolved through conciliation. I think it is important to note that data was not reported from 2007-08 and 2015. Over the last five years, the number of new allegations of wrongdoing made internally has averaged around 269 per year. Over the last five years, PSIC received an average of 145 disclosures of wrongdoing and 48 reprisal complaints.

I could go on with some of the stats, but I want to emphasize that we believe public servants who disclose serious wrongdoing must be protected. We recognize that. The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act helps to ensure an ethical workplace culture and supports the integrity of the federal public sector.

As I started off my comments, I would like to conclude them by saying that I have witnessed first-hand, for many years as a parliamentarian, the outstanding performance of our civil servants at the national and other levels of government. Comparing Canada as a whole to other nations around the world, I think we can take a great sense of pride in it. I am glad to hear that the department itself is looking at ways in which we can even improve the system by incorporating whistle-blower legislation that will add true value to the process and protect our public servants.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

February 9th, 2023 / 5:25 p.m.
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Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to a bill that I believe is long overdue, as it addresses something that I believe is long overdue to be addressed.

Bill C-290 would amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act to strengthen the current whistle-blower protections for public servants. This is an excellent initiative, and I commend my colleague for introducing the bill.

As was mentioned in the sponsor of this bill’s speech, while the Public Servants Disclosure Act is based on sound principles, it has a number of flaws. The bill before us seeks to address those flaws. That is why it is important to add these stronger protections sooner rather than later. Though it would seem that the desire to swiftly deliver stronger protections for whistle-blowers only exists on the opposition side of the House.

The government, after sitting on well-written recommendations for whistle-blower protections for five years, now wants to spend millions of dollars and more time studying them. The Liberals may even decide to procure the services of some outside consulting firm to tell them what they should do. We simply cannot continue to wait for them to get their act together.

Whistle-blower protections are fundamental to the functioning of our government. If public servants are afraid to raise the alarm, then corruption and wasteful spending run rampant. In the absence of these protections, a culture of fear arises. Public servants are worried about retaliatory actions being taken if they raise their concerns over government actions.

Oftentimes, it is public servants who lead to the public discovering a government’s malfeasance. For example, at the beginning of this year, when CBC published its article detailing the McKinsey contracts, there was testimony from two IRCC employees who held major roles in the department. They spoke about the issues of contracting with McKinsey and their concerns on the condition of remaining anonymous.

If we had a system in place that would have protected them and allowed them to raise these concerns earlier, we may not be where we are now, with the government having given over $100 million in contracts to McKinsey. That is why we must ensure that the protections for whistle-blowers are strong. The bill would do many things to strengthen these protections.

Bill C-290 would expand the definition of wrongdoing. It would broaden who is considered a supervisor, so that public servants could make a protected disclosure to any superior within their organization. This would allow public servants to go to any trusted superior to voice their concerns. It would give public servants more confidence in raising concerns if they know they can go to someone they trust outside of their direct superior.

Another good change that is being proposed through the bill is the extension of the deadline for filing a reprisal complaint from 60 days to one year. Giving public servants more time to file their complaints would ensure there is ample time for reprisal actions to be identified and punished. It is important that these concerns are heard and that bad actors are dealt with, or else we may have reoffenders.

Another aspect that is addressed in the bill is the penalty for reprisal against whistle-blowers and protections for whistle-blowers themselves. The significant increases in financial penalties for reprisals would be an important deterrent for possible bad actors who are trying to punish and silence whistle-blowers. The increased penalties would likely be a strong deterrent against reprisals.

The bill would also allow for a remedy to be provided to a whistle-blower if a reprisal action was taken. This is important, as not only could the whistle-blower be vindicated if reprisal actions are taken, but they could also be compensated in some way to make up for the reprisal action and ensuing consequences. Additionally, by giving superiors a duty to protect and provide support to public servants making a disclosure, whistle-blowers could be more confident when coming forward that this would indeed happen.

One last aspect of the bill that I want to focus on is the requirement to review the act every five years. I am sure that members of the governing party will enthusiastically welcome this addition, given their eagerness just now to review the act.

Obviously, we have seen that, without proactive attention, the shortcomings of the act have been exploited. As members may recall, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act was brought in under the previous Conservative government in 2006. This legislation was in response to the Liberal sponsorship scandal. Over the past several years, we have seen that the current whistle-blower protections are not sufficient.

As the sponsor of this bill said in his speech, we can probably count on two hands the number of people who have actually been protected under the current framework. We must do more. With a Prime Minister and cabinet that have been found guilty of a record five ethics breaches, we need to rely on whistle-blowers more than ever to bring to light the questionable and unethical, behind-the-scenes actions of the government.

We need only recall how the Prime Minister treated his former minister of justice when she stood up for the integrity of her office. She was quickly forced out. If a minister of the Crown cannot be protected, how can we expect public servants to come forward with their concerns? This bill is the first step we can take towards strengthening whistle-blower protections. Hopefully, we can reach the point where the government will fully implement all of the recommendations put forward by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates in 2017.

Conservatives have always been supportive of strong protections for whistle-blowers. That is why we are supporting this bill, just as we supported the 2017 recommendations from the OGGO committee then, and they were as follows: expanding the definition of the terms “wrongdoing” and “reprisal” and modifying the definition of the term “protected disclosure” under the act; amending the legislation to protect and support whistle-blowers and prevent retaliation against them; reversing the burden of proof from the whistle-blower onto the employer in cases of reprisals; providing legal and procedural advice, as necessary, to public servants seeking to make a protected disclosure of wrongdoing or file a reprisal complaint; embedding in the legislation confidentiality provisions of witnesses’ identities; making the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner responsible for training, education and oversight responsibilities to standardize the internal disclosure process; and finally, implementing mandatory and timely reporting of disclosure activities.

As my colleague, the shadow minister for Treasury Board, stated last fall:

Conservatives have a long history of standing up for whistleblowers, first with the creation of the Public Servants Disclosure Protections Act under Prime Minister Stephen Harper as well as reforms to strengthen the act included in both our 2019 and 2021 platforms. As the Liberal government fails to prioritize these important protections, we will continue our work to stand up for public servants and protect whistleblowers.

I hope that all of these recommendations will be fully implemented sooner rather than later, and I think this bill is a great start. I also hope my colleagues on the government side will support it. If they do not, we will be left to speculate as to why they do not want public servants bringing forward concerns about the government’s actions.