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.