Mr. Speaker, it is good to participate in the debate on Bill C-11. I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley.
This bill is an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose those wrongdoings. That is the long title of the bill. The short title is the public servants disclosure protection act, but I think we all know it as the whistleblower legislation.
Today we are on the verge of passing this legislation. In fact, we may finish the debate today and finally see this important legislation move through the House of Commons. That would be an occasion to celebrate. It has been a long time coming. Many people in this place have worked very long and hard to see the accomplishment of some whistleblower legislation. This legislation is not perfect, but it has been long needed. Today if we get the bill through the House, it will be an accomplishment indeed.
I want to pay tribute to my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, one of the people who have worked hard on this legislation. He has worked hard on this legislation from the very moment he arrived in the House back in 1997. His first private member's bill focused on the whole issue of whistleblowing and the need for an accountability mechanism that would allow public servants to raise important issues of wrongdoing in government and not suffer the consequences for their courage in raising those issues.
That came from my colleague's background in the trade union movement. For many years he represented workers and the difficulties they faced in the workplace, not the least of which would be how to deal with wrongdoings on the part of an employer. His work and initiatives which started back in 1997 have contributed to where we are today on this issue.
Members from other parties have contributed as well. We have heard today that the Bloc Québécois back in 1996 introduced a significant private member's bill on this issue. This was an important contribution and included important principles that have finally seen the light of day in the legislation we are debating today. We have also heard of attempts from the Conservative side of the House on this issue.
We are taking an important step to finally get a bill through the House. This kind of legislation is a crucial part of any government's approach to ethics in government, accountability in government and a response to wrongdoing in the conduct of government. Even though there are still some problems with this legislation, it will take us to a new level of accountability. It is something we can all celebrate.
In the past there have been other attempts. Bill C-25 in the last Parliament was an extremely flawed bill. It was so flawed that some folks came to believe it was an attempt to protect ministers from the disclosures of whistleblowers and that it had nothing to do with the protection of people who took that strong step and made the commitment to expose wrongdoing in government. It is a good thing that is behind us.
I think it is because there is a minority government situation in this Parliament that we have been able to make progress on this issue. The government has been convinced of the importance of proceeding along these lines, perhaps egged on by some of the other scandals that face the government today.
Whistleblowing is not an easy thing to do in any workplace, particularly a government workplace. We know the power dynamics of the workplace. Workers often feel they do not have the resources and huge power that managers and the people who are in authority over them have, which often puts workers in a terrible position.
There are huge risks involved in whistleblowing, such things as the loss of jobs and relationships people build in organizations and the workplace. There are subtle reprisals people can face, such as changes in holiday times or access to other benefits in the workplace. We have also heard in the past of concerns around frivolous complaints that might be made because of other disputes in the workplace.
When the Canadian Labour Congress appeared before the committee, it talked about many important issues and cited a study from the October 2004 issue of Policy Options . Researcher Donald Rowat highlighted a study done in the United States on the fate of whistleblowers. This was before the U.S. had strengthened disclosure law.
Mr. Rowat studied 161 workers who had made a wrongdoing disclosure. He found that 62% of them lost their jobs, 18% were harassed or transferred, including being subject to isolation tactics and character assassination, and 13% had their responsibilities or salaries reduced. In addition, many of them experienced mental breakdown and family breakup. Those are very high prices to pay for speaking out on wrongdoing in government.
I am glad that we have finally made progress on this and that we are taking steps to ensure good management and to encourage public servants to make this kind of disclosure, to encourage government to engage in the problems that have been raised, and to encourage action to resolve those problems.
Bill C-11 almost died in this Parliament. It took the hard work of many opposition and government members to keep it on track. We have ended up with a piece of legislation that is a good attempt at addressing these important issues. It is a good example of how a minority Parliament can work.
We have worked hard in this Parliament to ensure fairness to see that not only the interests of the government are addressed, but also the interests of opposition parties, of Canadian citizens and of the workers in the public service. We successfully reached a conclusion of which we can be proud. It took a minority Parliament to convince the government of the need to move in this area. Clearly, the earlier attempts had been unsatisfactory and in some cases extremely disappointing.
Bill C-11 saw some major changes from that which was introduced originally by the government. Those changes have enabled the bill to go forward. Those changes include an integrity commissioner who would report to Parliament and not to a minister. That is a significant improvement to this legislation.
Changes have been made to the list of exempted organizations of government. Significant deletions were made from the long list that was originally part of the legislation. All crown corporations, agencies and institutes are now included. Those that are not included are those that have clear measures around wrongdoing and whistleblowing already in position.
Many whistleblowers have lost their jobs because of that, including a number at Health Canada who are very important to this whole process. This legislation is a tribute to the risks that they took and the punishment that they received. I am glad that we are on track with this legislation. I look forward to its final passage.