Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you to all committee members.
Mr. Chair, thank you for acknowledging receipt of my letter of March 13. Again, I do apologize to you and all committee members and assure you of my ongoing respect for your committee and my absolute understanding of my obligation to appear before you.
I am deeply honoured that the Prime Minister chose to nominate me to the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, further to a publicly advertised process initiated last year.
The position of commissioner is that of an agent of Parliament, one of a small number of oversight offices that exercise important and sensitive functions in the federal public administration, functions that require objectivity, neutrality, and independence.
I fully understand the importance of the role of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, and if appointed, I would bring all of my experience, skills and commitment to this position.
I would also like to point out that I fully understand that, as an agent of Parliament, I would be directly accountable to Parliament.
Our office was created in 2007 under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act as part of the federal government's accountability initiative. The office provides a safe and confidential mechanism for public servants and for members of the public to disclose wrongdoing committed in the federal public sector. The act also helps protect from reprisal public servants who have disclosed wrongdoing and those who have cooperated in investigations.
The position of commissioner plays a central role in the accountability framework for the federal public sector. It represents a commitment to excellence in public service and, increasingly, it forms part of the identity of Canada in the world as a trusted leader in good government and good governance.
If my appointment is approved, my commitment will be to represent the public interest in carrying out the important and sensitive duties of the commissioner, reporting directly to Parliament, as all agents do.
Over the past seven years at the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, first as general counsel, then as deputy commissioner, and since January 1 of this year, as interim commissioner, I have gained a clear and in-depth understanding of the structure and operation of our disclosure and reprisal protection regime, in other words, the whistle-blower protection regime.
I also understand the importance of emphasizing and demonstrating the trust that Canadians have in public institutions and their public service, including the need to work on keeping and strengthening that trust. In order to meet these objectives, it is essential to use discretion, be familiar with how the public sector operates and take an objective and balanced approach when making decisions on key issues.
I understand that it can be extremely difficult for people to come forward when they have witnessed what they think is wrongdoing. I understand that reprisal can take many forms and requires a direct and clear response to not only address an individual situation effectively but also to discourage it from happening in the future. I also understand that all parties, including those accused of having committed wrongdoing or reprisal, have the right to be treated with fairness and justice.
Working as an independent decision maker, the commissioner has a very demanding role. Many aspects of the role still have to be defined as they relate to the disclosure of wrongdoing. The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner must be able to manage expectations and perceptions using diplomacy and judgment. That being said, I know that, by continuing to work toward the objectives of accessibility, clarity and consistency, the office will be able to deal with wrongdoing and complaints of reprisal and thus help strengthen the public service.
It has been eight years since the office was created. We've had many tangible successes in those eight years in the tabling of case reports, the referral of reprisal cases to the tribunal that was specifically created in our legislation to determine and rule upon these cases, and in the conciliation of some of those cases. We've also had success in our sustained outreach to inform Canadians about our existence and mandate.
The true measure of our success in many ways is that we treat each case fairly, rendering decisions on issues of significant public interest and importance in a just and equitable manner and in accordance with our act.
If my nomination is approved, I intend to follow the example of my predecessor, under whose leadership I am proud to have helped lay a solid foundation for the rigorous operational policies and methods we have in place today. I will continue to be guided by and build on that success.
My priorities are grouped under the principles I've just mentioned: accessibility, clarity, and consistency. These principles, while distinct, are intrinsically linked. Accessibility, which is linked to awareness and knowledge, is a priority that I believe will be a permanent one for us. It is a goal and a challenge that is shared by our colleagues in the provinces and the territories with whom I meet on a regular basis, and it is shared by our international counterparts, many of whom I'm also in ongoing communication with.
In simple terms, this principle means that people need to know who we are and where to find us when they need us. They need to understand that, by law, they can choose to make disclosures within their department or to come to us. They also need to be aware of what we can and cannot do for them when they come to our office. We have to keep working on raising people's awareness, providing them with clear information and reassuring them.
Further in this regard, I'll also focus on the continuing challenge of ensuring that our work is informed by other relevant perspectives and opinions. Our external advisory committee, started in 2011, will continue. It provides us with essential external points of view and it allows us to be aware of the influence and effects of our actions. In this regard, an increased focus on the input and views of federal unions will be a priority for me as chair of this committee.
Looking to the internal operations of our office, we're in a position to take stock of our considerable experience and build on the lessons we have learned to date, including guidance from the courts. To that end, I have focused on making progress on our internal policy-making process, bringing together our operations, legal, and policy teams to produce directives to guide operations more directly and more strategically, and also to provide potential users of our regime with clarity on our interpretation and application of the law. We want people to make informed choices about coming to our office. Knowing what to expect is a key part of that.
This builds on our work in recent years in creating and publicizing service standards. These are timelines that we've imposed on ourselves to complete initial analyses of files and also to complete investigations.
Mr. Chair, I will also continue to place great importance on the standards of professionalism and excellence that our staff are expected to uphold. Our job is difficult, but our team, though relatively small, is stronger than ever. When it comes to recruitment, we have demonstrated rigour and strategic vision. I have learned that, for a small organization like ours, it can be extremely complicated to attract and retain the right people.
Eight years in, our workload seems to have stabilized, even though we have no control over the frequency, number or type of disclosures. By now, we have shown that we can accomplish our work within the constraints of our existing budget. We are finally ready to undertake the statutory five-year review of the legislation, and when that review begins, we will be pleased to submit the observations and suggestions that have arisen from our work to date, thereby contributing to potential changes to the system.
Generally speaking, as we continue to prepare for this review, I can say that our focus will be on improving confidentiality protection and providing support to complainants of reprisal in an effort to allow them to access the full benefit of the protection under the law. I would say with confidence that our act is working, but I would also say that it can work better. It is the responsibility of any commissioner to ensure that it is working to its full capacity and potential.
Our work requires a thorough understanding of the federal public service, its activities and, indeed, its culture. I am confident that my 22 years of experience within the federal administration will be critically important to the performance of the duties and functions of commissioner under the act.
I have proven my objectivity and my independence in the context of my work for the commissioner's office to date, particularly when I was called upon to act as a decision-making authority in founded cases of wrongdoing. I am relying on that experience, my judgment and my legal training to guide me in carrying out the role of commissioner.
I'm asking you to place your trust in me and to allow me and my capable, dedicated, and experienced team to fully implement the act over the next seven years in supporting the goal of accountability in the federal public sector.
I wish to underscore that the vast majority of public servants serve Canadians with integrity and an honourable sense of service. My goal as commissioner would be to ensure that Canada's proud tradition of public service not only continues, but that it is also strengthened and exemplified by the highest degree of respect for and compliance with standards of integrity, professionalism, and respect.
Thank you for considering my nomination, Mr. Chair.
It would be my pleasure to answer any questions the committee may have for me at this time.