This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #126 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was harmonization.

Topics

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should introduce legislation to protect public servants who report wasteful spending, illegal activities or any other incidents which threaten the integrity of the government of Canada.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Motion No. 263. Given the importance of this issue and the need to hear from as many members as possible, I ask for unanimous consent of the House to share my 20 minutes with the member for Ottawa West.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are fortunate to have in Canada a public service which is the envy of the world. It is not overstating the fact to say that our public service is of the highest calibre.

Despite the severe cutbacks and historic change that the public service is currently enduring, Canadians continue to enjoy service from among the best and the brightest. However, the public service cannot maintain its tradition of excellence if the professionals who make up this body are not empowered toward excellence.

This means not only providing the best training and support, it means providing protection against those who do not aspire to the high standards met daily by the majority of public servants. It is the first step in the creation of a regime which empowers those committed to excellence to have a method of dealing with those who are not.

This motion is designed to address the absence of any legislated protection for public servants who report any fraudulent activities, suspected or otherwise. As members well know, public servants in Canada do not enjoy any special protection from reprisals should they report any fraudulent activity on the part of their superiors. We lack the mechanisms necessary to ensure safe reporting of an investigation of such activities.

All too often, the only course that public servants feel they have open to them is to report their concerns to the media. Yet the media is often unable to act until after an abuse of power has occurred because it really is not news until it happens.

This is a problem that we need to address in a twofold manner. First, we need to construct an investigative regime which will protect the identity of the reporter. Second, we need to create a climate where individuals who contemplate such activities know they simply cannot get away with this kind of behaviour. The way to achieve this second objective is to be very effective in our treatment of the first.

I have worded this motion in very broad terms because parliamentarians from all parties, academics, interested organizations and, of course, public servants should have a say in the creation of this legislation. It is particularly important to hear from public servants to determine the shape this whistle blower legislation should take. It is the public servants who must feel that any such regime affords them the kind of protection to be effective.

The auditor general, in his 1995 annual report, stated that about one-third of public servants believe that their job security would be threatened if they were to report a conflict of interest involving a superior or senior manager.

I have been approached on several occasions by constituents who are public servants with reports of suspected abuse in their departments. My action in these instances was to report the suspected abuse while preserving the identity of my constituents. I have done this and their concerns were investigated. However, I was not happy with the process or lack of process to adequately deal with these complaints. It appears that the fox minds the hen house.

I am quite confident that my experience is not unique among members of Parliament. The experiences of my constituents are certainly not unique. We need whistle blower legislation.

There is a lack of balance in the current accountability regime. Under the terms of the Financial Administration Act, public servants are required to report any suspected fraud or face a fine of up to $5,000 or five years in prison. However, there is no protection for those who act in compliance with the Financial Administration Act. We need to balance the requirement to report abuse with

protection for whistle blowers who act in accordance with the law and in the best interests of Canadian taxpayers.

The legislation which this motion proposes the government introduce would serve two functions. First, it would provide protection for public servants who feel reprisal if they report abuse and it would function as an incentive for public servants to follow the letter of the Financial Administration Act and report any suspected fraud. It would also have an additional, very important effect: to create a chilly climate for fraudulent behaviour.

Although it would be up to the government to create the legislation, I would hope that process would include extensive public hearings to ensure that we are able to create effective whistle blower legislation.

The testimony that would come from these hearings would greatly assist the government in creating an effective whistle blower regime.

There has been some excellent work done in Canada on this issue. Two initiatives in particular deserve mention. In 1986, the Ontario Law Reform Commission released a position paper calling for the creation of an office of special counsel whose purpose would be to receive allegations of wrongdoing from public servants. The OSC would launch an investigation, if warranted, while ensuring the confidentiality of the complainant.

In 1994, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada released a series of recommendations as part of its document entitled "Lifting the Silence". The institute recommended the establishment of the office of the ombudsman assigned to a function similar to that of the proposed OSC. The office of the ombudsman would also have the authority to ensure that corrective action is taken. We should draw on this work and other initiatives in this area in creating the whistle blower regime.

My colleague, the member for Portneuf, has introduced Bill C-318 on this issue. I appreciate his concern with this issue and I know that he is sincere in his efforts to address the very serious lack of whistle blower legislation. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that his bill would create an adequate whistle blower regime. The problem lies in the fact that he has prescribed a pivotal role to the office of the auditor general.

Under his proposed legislation the auditor general would investigate all complaints and the public servant in question would be protected from reprisal by the auditor general. I raise this bill because some would argue that this is a very natural role for the auditor general. I think that we have to be very cautious in this regard. If we were to review the literature on the auditor general among academics and practitioners we would find a real concern with the direction that office is currently taking.

We often forget that the office of the auditor general was initially created for a very specific purpose, to conduct probity audits: that is to ensure that government money is being spent the way the government has said it is spending money. This has evolved into what is known as a comprehensive audit where the auditor general is making many value judgments on the manner in which the government funding is spent. The function of the office has become far more politicized and has gone far beyond its intended scope.

To assign a role to this office which includes investigating allegations of fraudulent activity of all kinds and protecting whistle blowers would represent a fundamental new responsibility. I am not ruling out such a possibility in the future but I think that we should consult with and examine the office of the auditor general before assigning such a role.

Finally, as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada, I am introducing this motion to ensure that the government fulfils a 1993 election commitment to introduce whistle blower legislation. At an Ottawa press conference held on September 9, 1993, a one page document was released which contained a commitment to create an effective whistle blower regime. That document reads in part: "Public servants who blow the whistle on illegal or unethical behaviour should be protected. A Liberal government will introduce whistle blowing legislation". It is important that this commitment be kept. The legislation is long overdue.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If you were to seek it, I believe you would find unanimous consent to have the recorded divisions scheduled for this evening on the amendment of the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands, and on the motion of the official opposition tabled by the hon. member for Shefford to be deferred until tomorrow, after Government Orders.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the official opposition whip have the unanimous consent of the House?

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Could the hon. member succinctly explain to the member for Brampton what this is about, or does the member for Brampton now understand? It was explained to her? Very well.

Is there unanimous consent to move the motion?

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Ovid Jackson Liberal Bruce—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear what happened.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have just been made aware of this motion. I would like an opportunity to confirm that consultations have taken place. Would the member mind withdrawing it for the moment and perhaps we could come back to it after the debate proceeds, since I am the next speaker?

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There are actually two parts to it. One, there has to be unanimous consent to hear the motion and, second, to pass it. We have basically gone through the first step but not the second. We will get back to this question in 10 minutes.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on the motion tabled in the House by the hon. member for Brampton.

The motion proposes that legislation be introduced to protect public servants who report wasteful spending, illegal activities or any other incidents which threaten the integrity of the government of Canada.

This means that such legislation could include appropriate sanctions against public service managers taking disciplinary measures as a form of reprisal against employees who disclose serious wrongdoing by their employer.

This proposal, like most legislation that comes before us, particularly in the area of wrongdoing, is not intended for the 99 per cent of people affected by it who act properly, who look always to do that which is right, fair and just and a responsible use of taxpayer money. However, like all laws that come before us, they are designed for those few who would choose to abuse a privilege, to act with disrespect or harmfully or viciously toward other members of society or toward their responsibilities.

A few years ago the previous auditor general suggested that we should set up a snitch line so that public service employees could call up and report abuses in their departments by other employees or managers. I was not terribly in favour of that because it sounded too much like repressive regimes around the world that have turned their citizenry into a nation of spies against their friends, relatives and co-workers.

However, I do think we want to encourage and, as my colleague from Brampton has said, the Financial Administration Act requires, members of the public to report any incident of abuse of public resources and to suffer consequences if they do not. On the other hand, employees are reluctant to do that because of fear of suffering the consequences through loss of a job, through the lack of opportunities for promotion and training. In other words, they fear suffering real and significant consequences in their own careers and advancement.

What the member for Brampton is trying to do is ask that we look at legislation that would ensure that kind of punitive activity cannot take place because a public service employee has exercised his or her legal responsibility and duty to the country by reporting wrongdoing.

It recognizes that whistleblowing can be in the public interest and particularly if wasteful spending or illegal activities or even the integrity of the government itself is at issue. We are all interested in any proposal that would lead to improvements in the way government programs are delivered. It would lead to greater efficiencies and effectiveness and to the elimination of waste, mismanagement or misconduct. That is why I had some regrets that the motion before us is not votable. We want to try to foster that attitude in the public service where employees feel free to suggest better ways and feel free to come forward with knowledge about how public money is being wasted or used illegally.

Right now there is no mechanism to protect them. There are a number of measures in place that certainly provide opportunities. The grievance process in the public service, as part of legislation, is certainly one such mechanism whereby people who feel that they have been wrongly denied opportunities, perhaps for doing something that was their public duty to do, can certainly complain. But that is a long, onerous and often damaging process. It is a very confrontational process.

The harassment policy prevents an employer or manager from treating employees in an abusive way. This would certainly be the case if retaliation for the exposure of wrongdoing were involved.

The hon. member for Brampton is not alone in having dealt with constituents who know of wrongdoing or who suspect wrongdoing in the public service who are afraid to come forward to make a complaint to correct the waste and abuse of public resources.

I do not believe that legislation such as this would be a blanket answer. Legislation cannot protect against the bad will and malicious nature of some people. I say that emphasizing that laws such as this are written for a very small percentage of people who do not behave in a proper manner, either in their personal lives or in their work as public service employees. Legislation such as this would be irrelevant to 99 per cent of public servants, perhaps more.

We have to look at how legislation such as this might affect other obligations of employees. For instance, confidentiality is an obligation of all federal public servants by virtue of the Official Secrets Act and the oath or affirmation of secrecy taken by public servants upon entering the service.

It is not a simple matter. I do not pretend that legislation could necessarily guarantee protection. However, it is an issue which Parliament should look into. Can we ensure that our employees feel perfectly comfortable when they identify serious faults and perhaps illegalities in coming forward in the public interest and making that information known? Unless the information is known, nothing can be done to correct the situation.

A number of other jurisdictions have taken such measures. We have a number of models which we could consider. This is something which employees of the public service have been asking of government for some time. I compliment the hon. member for Brampton for bringing forward this motion today.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The opposition whip, I understand, wishes to defer the two supply votes from today after Government Orders to tomorrow after Government Orders.

Did I hear a no?

If I understand her correctly, the hon. member simply wishes to defer the vote on the two supply motions scheduled for today to tomorrow after Government Orders.

I realize that the hon. deputy whip has not had time to speak with her colleagues. Does she wish a further deferral of the putting of this question to the House?

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West, ON

We are prepared to deal with it now, if you wish, Mr. Speaker.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent in the House for the hon. opposition whip's proposal?

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Bélisle Bloc La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, as its name indicates, Motion M-263, presented by the member for Brampton, would protect public servants against reprisals for having, confidentially and in good faith, reported certain abuses by federal public servants.

This motion does not set a historic precedent as such. Our neighbour to the south, the United States, is increasingly favouring legal protection for employees who blow the whistle on unlawful practices. Whistle blowers in the American civil service are afforded some protection under the Civil Service Reform Act.

From state to state, in the U.S., protection varies considerably, with some states having legislation that covers both private and public sector employers, some having legislation that covers just one of these sectors, and yet others having legislation aimed only at certain specific problems or industries.

In many countries, particularly in the Commonwealth, there is more specific legislation concerning such areas as employment, health or the environment, that protect employees against reprisals to which they might be subject for availing themselves of the rights conferred on them under such legislation.

Ontario is the only province in Canada that has brought in legislation to provide general protection for whistle blowers in the public sector. The 1993 public service and staff relations amending legislation contains a part IV dealing with protection for whistle blowers. Although the bill received royal sanction on December 14, 1993, this part IV is not yet in effect, and since the Conservatives came into power in that province, no one knows when it will be.

All bills comparable to Motion M-263 presented to date in the House of Commons have shared the objective of protecting federal public servants who make allegations of wrongdoing by their employers.

Since 1987, there have been four such legislative measures debated in the House. I would like to list these: Bill C-229 by the former Conservative member Bill Vankoughnet; Motion M-57, by the former Solicitor General of Canada, the Hon. Bob Kaplan; the motion by the former Conservative minister, the Hon. Alan Redway, and finally Bill C-293 by former NDP member Joy Langan.

In addition to these legislative measures in the House of Commons, several organizations have made submissions, or indicated their agreement in principle with a bill such as the one proposed by today's motion. Those publicly stating the necessity of such a measure include the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, and the Auditor General of Canada.

On the other hand, certain political parties have taken a stand in this debate on ethics in the public service. The Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party and, of course, the Bloc Quebecois, have stated their intention to propose or support such a measure. As for the Reform Party, they have been endlessly stating since their election that they will support any measure aimed at eliminating waste by government institutions.

The doggedness of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in promoting such a legislative measure is certainly undisputable. On a number of occasions, it has criticized the situation and recommended passing a bill proposing the same objectives as Motion M-263.

In November 1994, in its document "In the public interest", one of the recommendations the Alliance made was:

That the Government of Canada pass legislation aimed at protecting members of the Public Service who disclose government wrongdoing, reprehensible practices and waste.

In a press release dated May 12, 1995, the Alliance stated that speedy passage of the bill on whistle-blowers promised by the Liberal government during the election campaign would go far towards resolving the ethical dilemmas facing federal public service employees.

On May 11, 1994, the Bloc member for Portneuf tabled Bill C-248 in this House for first reading.

On June 19, 1996, the hon. member for Portneuf tabled Bill C-318 for first reading.

We feel there are a number of reasons why the auditor general should be allowed to receive and investigate complaints referred to as whistle-blowing.

The auditor general is by law responsible for the internal audit of the federal administrative apparatus. The auditor general is also known for his professionalism and the relevance of his reports.

Finally, the auditor general's office operates at arm's length from the government and politicians, which gives it a certain status and impartiality.

Considering the number of bills tabled previously by members of all parties; considering the election promises made by the Prime Minister and his Liberal colleagues regarding the introduction of such a measure; considering that all other political parties support such a proposal; considering that the unions are unanimous in their support for a tool including provisions that would allow whistle-blowing; also considering the number of government agencies that recommend this type of legislation and, finally, the urgent need for increased transparency and integrity in federal institutions, we should support Motion M-263.

For all the reasons just mentioned, the Bloc Quebecois will support the motion tabled in the House by the hon. member for Brampton.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Reform Comox—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Motion No. M-263 brought forward by the member from Brampton. Motion No. M-263 asks:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should introduce legislation to protect public servants who report wasteful spending, illegal activities or any other incidents which threaten the integrity of the government of Canada.

Clearly Canadians want and expect their government to conduct their business openly and honestly and that is what this motion is about.

The principles of this motion are similar to the principles of the Reform Party. The Reform Party has always advocated transparency in the federal government and the elimination of waste in public funds. As a result, Reform members have asked this government to introduce whistle blowing legislation in the past. For example, the Reform member for St. Albert asked the President of the Treasury Board to introduce legislation to protect whistle blowers. We have yet to see this legislation introduced in the House.

Public servants must not only be allowed but also encouraged to report practices that would cause a specific and substantial danger or prejudice to the public health, safety or welfare, or entail wasteful or unjustified public spending. Employers should not be allowed to discourage, suspend or impose financial penalties on any employee who makes a disclosure. Public servants must be protected against employer reprisals in retaliation for disclosures that are made in good faith.

These measures were forward in the House before, as mentioned by my colleagues both on the Liberal side and the Bloc side, by the Bloc member for Portneuf as Bill C-248. The fact that this issue has not been deemed votable both times it has been brought forward before the House makes it rather clear that the government does not want to see whistle blowing legislation before this House.

Before the last election the Liberals promised to introduce whistle blowing legislation. In their approach to the public service the Liberals promised: "Public servants who blow the whistle on illegal or unethical behaviour should be protected". That is pretty clear. "A Liberal government will introduce whistle blowing legislation in the first session of the new Parliament". Well guess what. The first session has past, we are into the second session and there is still no whistle blowing legislation.

Many other countries are far ahead of Canada in this area. For example in the United States they have the false claims act. Under it whistle blowers receive 25 per cent of the savings of any whistle blowing event that they unearth. Over the first six years of operation of that act 407 lawsuits were filed and 37 were settled for a total of about $147 million in savings. The average whistle blower received $400,000. England has similar legislation. I believe this is the crux of what we are talking about here, protection at the same time as incentive.

The Americans saved $147 million by people within their departments saying there was waste and showing that there was waste. The incentive was there. Twenty-five per cent of the savings that they identified went into their own pockets. It works very well. The government saves on the one hand, the employee picks up on the other hand and the protection is there. It would be worthwhile to look at some of the practices followed in other countries to draft a plan of our own.

We also have on the books existing legislation that makes it necessary for this government to introduce whistle blowing legislation. Such an act is necessary because at the same time that our Financial Administration Act states that a public servant who fails to report suspected fraud can be fined up to $5,000 or sent to prison for up to five years, there is no corresponding protection for whistle

blowers who act in accordance with the law. Clearly we require a balance.

The government knows full well that there is waste and abuse in the public service and the introduction of such an act will bring many of these wasteful practices under control. This type of bill would help restore the credibility of the government and the politicians who are, to a certain extent, responsible for public service waste and abuse.

As my colleagues have mentioned before, the auditor general has covered this. He emphasized the need for action on this issue in his 1995 report. The auditor general wrote: "Canadians are concerned about integrity in government and they have the right to expect the highest ethical standards in their governments. Leadership by members of Parliament, ministers and deputy ministers is critical to maintaining ethical standards and performance in government".

The auditor general went on to say: "If Canadians do not trust their governments to act ethically, governments will find that their actions have less and less legitimacy and effectiveness. Thus we believe that it is important to discuss the ethics in government and to take action to maintain and promote ethics within government".

The Liberals promised in their red book to restore honesty and integrity to government yet their actions speak otherwise. If we had honesty and integrity, we would not need Motion No. M-263. We would not need to waste this House's time asking the government to follow through on its election promise. However as it is, there is a need to protect public servants whose efforts to ensure honesty and integrity in our institutions are threatened by their government. Thus we need this legislation.

It is ironic that on the one hand we have a Liberal backbencher pushing to fulfil a Liberal promise yet on the other hand cabinet is acting to undermine the Liberal member's efforts. This is not a partisan issue. It is simply common sense. It is in the best interests of Canadians and the federal government to introduce this legislation.

In conclusion, I support Motion No. M-263. I believe that there is broad support for this motion within the House. We have heard it from the Liberal side, we have heard it from the Bloc and Reform. As such I would ask for unanimous consent in this House that this motion be deemed votable.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member is seeking unanimous consent that the matter be made votable. Is there unanimous consent colleagues to have this matter made votable?

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Colleagues, I hear a no and therefore it cannot be made votable.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bruce—Grey Ontario

Liberal

Ovid Jackson LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today on the motion tabled by my colleague, the hon. member for Brampton, advocating legislation to protect public servants who report wasteful spending, illegal activities or any other incidents that threaten the integrity of the Government of Canada. The term whistle blowing has been used to describe such activities.

While the matter of legislating whistle blowing protection has been given a thorough airing in this House in the past, it is useful to bring it forward on occasion to see if the issues are real, if there are current mechanisms in place to assist public service employees who are fulfilling the legitimate requirements of their jobs, and if these mechanisms continue to provide the required degree of comfort for employees. It is useful as well to look at the experience of others in the area of whistle blower protection.

In Canada within the public service context, whistle blowing is rather loosely defined as making public disclosure of practices or actions related to fraud, mismanagement or waste. It is interesting to note that the current motion also includes a reference to items which threaten the integrity of the Government of Canada. It is very important for employees within the public service and in the private sector to have pride in their jobs and in their organization. Also I feel strongly that employees want to identify in a positive way with their employment and with their employer.

The issue which arises is what to do when an employee sees situations involving potential waste or mismanagement, or from a more positive perspective, when that employee sees a way for improving job efficiency or effectiveness. The concern is with those mechanisms that are available should the recommendations or suggestions not be welcomed or addressed.

I looked at some of the United States experience in the area of whistle blower protection legislation. As a bit of background, whistle blowing protection was legislated in the United States with the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act and in 1989 with the Whistleblowing Protection Act. It was designed to provide protection against adverse employment actions for employees who blow the whistle.

The 1989 legislation allowed employees to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board to seek redress for alleged acts of retaliation such as reassignments and ratings. As a follow-up to determine the effectiveness of the legislation, the United States

government conducted employee surveys in 1983 and in 1992 with a number of interesting findings.

Survey data showed that from 1983 to 1992 fewer employees said they had personally observed or obtained direct evidence of one or more illegal or wasteful activities involving their agencies. However of these employees, an increased percentage said that they had reported the illegal or wasteful activities. There was also an increase in the percentage of employees who said they had experienced reprisal or threat of reprisal for having reported an illegal or wasteful activity, but there was a decline in the more serious forms of reprisal.

From the perspective of increasing efficiency and effectiveness it was noted that while a smaller percentage of employees reported seeing examples of illegal or wasteful activities, of those who saw them a much larger percentage were willing to report them. Some employees chose not to report for a number of reasons, primarily because they believed nothing would be done to correct the activity, or they feared retaliation. Of course, when employees do share information about problems they see, the receivers of this information must be receptive to the information and must be willing to work with the employees toward problem resolution.

The United States report reached the conclusion that agencies need to focus their efforts on creating an atmosphere in which employees and managers alike see the value both in identifying problems and in working together to resolve them and that threats associated with disclosing illegal or wasteful activities must be diminished. The report concluded that this can be done only by empowering employees with the control and the right to help make changes in the workplace.

Suggestions for improvement included the following. Agencies should emphasize organizational change and improvement. Agencies should examine their processes for selecting supervisors and managers to ensure that they are choosing management teams with whom employees will feel comfortable sharing information concerning illegal or wasteful activities. Agencies should ensure that employees understand the kinds of problems about which they should share information, how the information will be handled and what safeguards there are against reprisals. Agencies should actively solicit employees' views and give employees feedback concerning those views.

This leads to an interesting comparison with the approach within the Canadian public service. In terms of the Canadian approach, we think it is important that the government of the day works with the public service in a co-operative manner, and I feel a spirit of trust must be felt as we look to ways of eliminating waste and achieving effectiveness.

At this time there are mechanisms within the public service to allow employees to bring to the attention of senior management any concerns they may have regarding illegal activities which they consider beyond the bounds of propriety. As well, there are a variety of mechanisms to protect employees from arbitrary disciplinary measures including the well established grievance and adjudication process.

The Public Service Staff Relations Act allows employees to grieve any perceived injustice or wrongdoing where there is no recourse provided in law. The Canadian Human Rights Act protects employees from discrimination and the Privacy Act provides a measure of protection as well.

In addition to the legislation provisions, the harassment in the workplace policy adopted by the Treasury Board for all public service employees specifically forbids harassment for any reason whatsoever, including specifically abuse of authority. It provides a simple mechanism that allows employees to bring their concerns to the attention of a neutral third party. In addition, the powers of the press and the public service employee unions have been influenced. The press and the unions have demonstrated a continuing interest in keeping government employees and public organizations on the straight and narrow, as we are all aware.

A fundamental principle of management in most successful organizations is that the employees are accountable for their performance to their senior managers. Fair play on the part of employees and superiors is an equally important element. There are in place remedial measures and available avenues of appeal that work efficiently to deal with abuses of authority. There are also sanctions in place to prevent, avert or penalize proven dishonourable conduct, criminal actions, waste, extravagance, discrimination or abuse of trust.

Employees are expected to inform their supervisors of any seeming impropriety and to suggest ways of improving public service actions. Recourse to internal channels where available and likely to be effective is required so that problems may be resolved internally.

The employee must consider whether that alternative is appropriate, not because the truth should be hidden but because internal remedy may be the most effective. There is an important message for internal managers here. Employees, according to a United States survey, are more likely to disclose issues in the context of where the issue is likely to be addressed.

For all the complexity of the government, the incidents that put employees in particular difficulties are remarkably few and far between. Existing mechanisms have been shown to be capable of dealing with them. New legislation in the area might well open a gulf between the employees and management, one which does not exist now.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There are no further members wishing to speak. The hon. member for Brampton is entitled under the rules to give a short summary of the debate if she wishes to do so.

Public ServicePrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the debate and I think that all members are in general agreement that the legislation is necessary. I am just hoping that the government will take this as a lead to enact some sort of hearings for this legislation.

I have had a number of personal experiences with people reporting abuses. I do not find that even for a member of Parliament there is a satisfactory way to address these issues. Public servants are intimidated by talking to members. Often in a department one public servant will not even meet with a member alone. They want someone else there with them as a witness to protect themselves in case the member makes a complaint. They want their own jobs protected.

I have been a public servant. We have some of the most dedicated, hard working people in the public service of Canada. Unfortunately, the only things ever reported in the news media are the abuses long after they have occurred. I do not think it is fair to the public service to be tarred with the same brush by the perception being created out there by these odd stories.

I would like to encourage the government to proceed with fulfilling its commitment.