Evidence of meeting #21 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was requests.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Caroline Maynard  Information Commissioner of Canada, Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada
Michael A. Dagg  As an Individual
Allan Cutler  President, Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada
Sean Holman  Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Paul Cardegna

12:05 p.m.

President, Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada

Allan Cutler

No, I've never seen one for 800 years. The second that Michael got it, he sent it to everybody he knew. It has to be one of the greatest jokes about the typical reaction of a federal government: If you want an answer, wait for your ancestors to come around. Eventually you'll get it, but it might take two or three generations.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Those would be very long-lived generations, Mr. Cutler, to cover 800 years.

12:10 p.m.

President, Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada

Allan Cutler

I intend to outlast them all.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Thank you very much.

We'll now go to Mr. Weiler, for six minutes, please.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Patrick Weiler Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses for joining our committee today and talking about issues that are very important right now.

According to the Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group white paper, the federal government should “educate employees about how to report wrongdoing concerning the expenditure of public funds related to this crisis, as well as the non-disclosure or manipulation of information about COVID-19.”

Mr. Dagg, how do think the federal organizations and the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada should improve their education and training initiatives on the disclosure of wrongdoing?

12:10 p.m.

As an Individual

Michael A. Dagg

Well, there are lots of things that could be done. The problem is that bureaucrats are good at finding ways around anything you do. There has to be a lot more public awareness because it's public awareness and using the law that make changes. If they can present to people that this is not very useful, then people won't use it.

I think the law is useful because, for example, the 800 years is really.... What about the law that says everything is public after 20 years? Nobody talked to me about that. I'm sure everything will be public after 800 years, but it won't be useful now, and that's part of the problem.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Patrick Weiler Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

What about training and education initiatives on the disclosure of wrongdoing?

12:10 p.m.

As an Individual

Michael A. Dagg

Part of the problem there is that public servants know that their jobs are on the line. You have to change the bureaucratic culture to give public servants some kind of protection and reward so that they will feel free to do it. I've talked to Mr. Cutler. What happened to him when he spoke up? He was basically sidelined in his career and punished pension-wise.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Patrick Weiler Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

I'm going to switch gears a bit. This question is for Mr. Holman.

Obviously, the pandemic has caused a big change in the working conditions of our public service. During a pandemic, which factors make it difficult for teleworking employees to complete access to information requests?

12:10 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

I think the Information Commissioner did an excellent job of outlining those factors. Given the fact that employees are working from home, they perhaps do not have ready access to some records and documents or perhaps the networks that they're accessing those records and documents through are not secure. This all impacts the ability of public employees to actually fulfill their obligations under the Access to Information Act.

That being said, I think this also points to a problem that has long existed with the access to information system, which is the need for better record-keeping in government. When the Access to Information Act was introduced and, indeed, when freedom of information was being discussed between 1965 and the time that the Access to Information Act was passed, there was a substantive discussion and debate about the need for better record-keeping, for more disclosure about the kinds of records the government had at its disposal and for ready access to those records. Unfortunately, those recommendations were never adhered to. Here we are, living in a digital age, and we still have the same problem.

I really encourage this committee to study the issue of record-keeping in government. It's not sexy, but it does go to Canadians' fundamental right to know and allowing them to exercise that.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Patrick Weiler Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Holman, according to your white paper, the federal government should “implement broad, urgently needed public and private sector whistleblower protections, helping those who serve the public interest by reporting wrongdoing.” How should PSDPA be amended to appropriately protect whistle-blowers?

June 19th, 2020 / 12:15 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

That's a very good question. This committee has actually assembled, as one of your members just mentioned, an extensive list of recommendations on how Canada's whistle-blower law can be improved. The government should act on those recommendations. This isn't rocket science. In many ways it has the same problems as the Access to Information Act. We know what needs to be done. We know what changes need to take place. We just need to act on those changes.

As an example, broadening the definition of what constitutes a reportable wrongdoing would dramatically help improve our whistle-blower law, because at the present moment a lot of the complaints we're seeing don't cross that threshold. That's a problem. We also need to expand the definition of who constitutes a whistle-blower so that it includes retired employees, former employees and private contractors.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Thank you very much.

Ms. Vignola, you have the floor for six minutes.

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Thank you very much.

Mr. Cutler, as you were saying in your presentation, having listened to Ms. Maynard has made you understand certain factors. She mentioned needs in human and material resources.

What are your suggestions to make the system work better? Are Ms. Maynard's requests in line with yours? Are they realistic?

12:15 p.m.

President, Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada

Allan Cutler

One thing that Madam Maynard said really struck home. Towards the end of her statement, she said that the people who work in the office want to give out the information and that the people at the top say the same thing. This sounds like the whistle-blowing dilemma or the information dilemma: The people at the top say it, but they don't do it. They don't live it and don't believe it, but they can say the right words. We have too much of what I call political correctness at the top, and the people down below know that if they do what they want to do, somebody is going to criticize them.

There's a real fear in the thing. The biggest change would be to pass legislation and protect them. Protect them against retaliation.

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Okay.

In French, we have an expression to the effect that the talk is not being walked.

12:15 p.m.

President, Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada

Allan Cutler

It's the same thing in English.

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

There is a lot of talk, but little action. You just said safeguards would be needed. Does the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act not provide those safeguards to employees who would like to do their job properly?

What improvements could you suggest?

12:15 p.m.

President, Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada

Allan Cutler

The first thing I would do, as far as whistle-blowing or anything like this goes, is to put the onus on management, the people up above, to prove that they have not retaliated against a whistle-blower. Whistle-blowers come forward and then experience retaliation. When they say they've seen retaliation, what it is.... Who controls the records? Who controls all of the job situations? It's the people above them. They don't have access to the proof of what's been going on. The onus has to be reversed. You have to prove you did not do it, from a higher level. That's the most important item of all the items, in my opinion.

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Cutler.

Mr. Holman, among your suggestions were performance-based pay and disclosures to make information transparent. I understand that may encourage people to disclose actions, but would there not be a higher risk of false reports? How could false reports be avoided?

12:20 p.m.

Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group

Sean Holman

That's a really good question. I think at the present moment in time we don't know the answer, because we haven't implemented such a system.

We do know that financial protections for whistle-blowers, financial incentives for whistle-blowers, have worked in other jurisdictions, including in the United States. There's been a lot of talk in this country about the fact that first responders are brave; first responders are our heroes. Whistle-blowers are another form of first responders. They are alerting us to problems within public sector and private sector institutions, and yet we are doing very little to actually protect them. Part of that protection is financial incentives for whistle-blowing. In a lot of cases, there can be very severe career repercussions for whistle-blowers when they do make that act of disclosure.

I'm sure everyone in this room has seen, for example, the movie The Insider. It's about the famous whistle-blower who came forward about the risks of smoking and cigarettes. That's not just a movie; that's reality for most whistle-blowers. We should be attuned to that reality and protect the bravery of first responders—first responders who disclose to the public the information that they need to know.

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Thank you very much.

Mr. Dagg, concerning requests, you said that there was already a backlog. It may have been naive of me, but I thought the legislation was clear on maximum time frames for responses to be provided.

Given the situation surrounding COVID-19, what kind of delays do you expect when it comes to requests? How could those delays be minimized?

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Unfortunately, Mr. Dagg, we're completely out of time. I would like to hear your answer, but we have time constraints. I would ask you to please provide that answer in writing as soon as possible to the clerk of this committee for dissemination to all our committee members. That would be much appreciated.

We will now go to Mr. Green for six minutes, please.

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Respecting the fact that we are getting into the second half of this meeting and that I'm fourth in the order, I'm going to go ahead and table my motion at this time.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Please go ahead, Mr. Green. I will stop the time.

If possible, give a quick summary of your motion. If that's not possible, I do know that you have distributed it to all members of the committee. It is in order, it is admissible, it is amendable and it is debatable. If you want to give the summary, go ahead. If not, you can just go into the motion itself and the reasons for presenting it.