Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the constituents of Newton—North Delta to participate in the report stage debate on Bill C-11, the public servants disclosure protection act. Bill C-11 creates a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoing in the federal public sector. If enacted, this bill would finally give Canada whistleblowing legislation, something other nations have had for decades.
When we look into the background of the bill, we see that this government has had 4,350 days to fulfill its promise and introduce effective whistleblowing legislation. That is how long this government has had.
The former government House leader, the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, said in 1992, while in opposition, “Public servants must be able to report about illegal or unethical behaviour that they encounter on the job without fear or reprisal”. In his speech, the hon. member then went on to quote a Liberal caucus-approved document, “Public Sector Ethics”, calling for whistleblowing legislation.
However, once secure in office, the Liberals quickly forgot about their promises. In the end, it took the sponsorship scandal for this weak-kneed government to dust off its decade-old promise.
Meanwhile, we have witnessed billions of taxpayers' dollars disappear. The sponsorship scandal could have been avoided or at least quashed years ago if whistleblowing legislation had been in place. The same holds true for the HRDC boondoggle, the George Radwanski affair, the gun registry cost overruns and so on.
Public service integrity officer Edward Keyserlingk, referring to the sponsorship program scandal, said that whistleblowing legislation could have saved taxpayers millions of dollars by giving public servants “the confidence to come forward”.
It is little wonder no one blew the whistle on this scandal. In the absence of any whistleblowing legislation, even well-meaning public servants are reluctant to come forward because they know that making trouble will be a career ending move.
This government claims to support whistleblowers, but its actions indicate otherwise. Let us look at the case of the three scientists from Health Canada who were fired in June 2004: Margaret Haydon, Shiv Chopra and Gérard Lambert.
They were among this country's most outspoken whistleblowers. They raised issues such as the safety of a bovine growth hormone proposed for use in dairy herds to boost milk production, the influence of corporations in government drug approvals, and the need to keep animal parts out of the feed supply to keep beef safe. All three were fired on the same day for undisclosed reasons, which, Canadians were told, had nothing whatsoever to do with their whistleblowing. The government must think Canadians are hopelessly naive.
The Liberals have been boasting about Bill C-11 and everything they are doing for public servants who disclose wrongdoing. However, firing dissenting research scientists sends another message. It tells public servants that debate is discouraged in the federal government and no one's job is safe.
As far as Bill C-11 is concerned, in its original form the bill would have done more harm than good for whistleblowers. However, after a lot of hard work by Conservatives in committee, some of the major flaws have been corrected.
I do not want anyone to get me wrong. The bill is still far from perfect but thanks to the pressure applied by the Conservative Party, the government has relented and tabled amendments to create an independent commissioner to hear and investigate disclosures of wrongdoing. This was an essential change to the proposed legislation.
Other amendments have not been forthcoming, including: having the commissioner report directly to Parliament instead of to a minister; prohibitions of reprisals against those who make disclosures of wrongdoing to the public, media, police or anyone outside the narrow process prescribed in the bill; elimination of provisions to change the Access to Information Act to allow departments to refuse to release information about internal disclosures of wrongdoing for five years; and, the bill would still allow cabinet to arbitrarily remove government bodies from protection under Bill C-11.
The bill represents an improvement over the status quo but it remains clear that the government is more interested in managing whistleblowing than protecting and encouraging public servants who uncover evidence of wrongdoing.
It would be interesting to know if there could have been a better way to protect whistleblowers. Like the members for New Brunswick Southwest and Winnipeg Centre, as well as Senator Kinsella, I have for years been lobbying for a strong whistleblower protection. In October 2000, I introduced Bill C-508, the whistleblower human rights act, which was probably the first bill introduced in that session about whistleblowing protection.
My legislation, drafted with the help of actual whistleblowers, including Joanna Gualtieri, Brian McAdam, Robert Reid and many others, would have given people the confidence to come forward but the Liberals could not muster up the courage to support an opposition member's bill.
When the bill finally came to a vote in February 2003 as Bill C-201, because I had reintroduced the same bill, government members refused to lend their support to my initiative. If the government had been sincere about whistleblowing, Liberal members would have voted differently that day. We know the government did not want to pass the bill at that time. Instead, it revealed how phoney its promise had been.
The last time I participated in the debate on Bill C-11, I highlighted a good comparison of my bill, which was drafted by whistleblowers, to Bill C-11 at that stage. There was a big contrast. Many members on the Liberal side were nodding their heads in favour of some of the things that I was proposing in my bill.
The government needs to do more to encourage the reporting of wrongdoing and should stress that it is an important civic responsibility. In fact, it should be the stated duty of every employee to disclose any wrongdoing that comes to their attention.
Based on the experiences of the whistleblowers I have met, their careers and personal lives have been devastated. I believe an employee who has alleged wrongdoing and suffers from retaliatory action as a consequence should have a right to bring a civil action before a court. As well, allegations of wrongdoing should be rewarded like in California where whistleblowers are entitled to 10% of the money government saves as a result of their vigilance.
It is vital that the threat of employer retaliation be eliminated to encourage government employees to speak up. This will assist in curtailing the misuse of taxpayer dollars. Every day there seems to be new reports of corruption and scandal with the government that could be eliminated.
When I blew the whistle on whistleblowing, the Liberals had their ears plugged. Four years ago, in the face of government opposition, I introduced legislation which the Liberals refused to support at that time. Now is the time they should be serious about making this bill effective. Since it was first introduced some important amendments have been made but it is still flawed. I think we will let it pass so that a Conservative government will have the opportunity to make it stronger.