House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was protection.


Public Servants Disclosure Protection ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. parliamentary secretary have the consent of the House?

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Some hon. members


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Newmarket—Aurora Ontario


Belinda Stronach Liberalfor the President of the Treasury Board and Minister Responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

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10:35 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-11 which has a long-standing history in this place.

A former colleague, Mr. John Bryden, was very instrumental in getting this process started. It actually goes back to the creation of the government operations committee and the time when George Radwanski was the Privacy Commissioner. That was the first instance when a whistleblower came before parliamentarians under the protection of the committee. The person who came forward with information told the committee that he or she would appear only if the meeting was in camera and only if he or she could be there with a lawyer. That event in a prior Parliament was most significant in terms of being the catalyst in bringing forward whistleblower legislation such as Bill C-11.

If we were to identify one specific reason why employees in the public service were reluctant to come forward, it was the fear of reprisals. It really has to do with the issue of anonymity. It really has to do with people who want to discharge their responsibilities within the public service in a way which is in the best interests of all Canadians.

The genesis was there. In the last Parliament a subcommittee of government operations looked at this matter. The member for Ottawa West and the member for Laval East were the co-chairs of the committee. From that subcommittee came the principles which we were hoping to see in the first bill on whistleblower protection. In the last Parliament Bill C-25 was sponsored by a minister other than the minister who is currently sponsoring Bill C-11. We debated the bill but it died on the order paper as a consequence of the election call.

Bill C-25 of the day came on the heels of another bill, a bill which was also numbered Bill C-25 in the prior session, which was on public service renewal. It was a massive overhaul. I think it was the first in some 20 years. There were still many issues.

We have just dealt with 47 report stage motions, all sponsored by the President of the Treasury Board. They all had to do with one thing which was how to change the bill that parliamentarians saw at first reading so that the person who was responsible for the whistleblower protection act was changed from the president of the Public Service Commission to an independent commissioner who would report to Parliament.

If members looked at the bill which was referred back from the committee, they would still see in the bill reference to the president of the Public Service Commission. The bill was sent to committee after first reading. This is very significant and shows that the commitment of all parliamentarians and certainly the government to having a good bill was so enormous and important that the committee did not have the authority to make it itself.

It took a change in the direction and the approvals of cabinet. It was a question of having a new officer of Parliament equivalent to the access to information officer, the Privacy Commissioner and the Auditor General. The committee felt it was very important, not because the members on the committee thought that this should be done; all of this came about as a consequence of the Radwanski hearings and the witnesses that the committee heard.

We heard time and time again that the anonymity issue was the stopper. The concern was that if employees were to say something, would they in some way be faced with a reprisal and their careers put in jeopardy? Do we have to relegate people who want to bring information forward to delivering plain brown wrappers or envelopes to parliamentarians to try to do something?

Under the Criminal Code, it is the obligation of every party who becomes knowledgeable of a criminal act to bring forward and report that act. However, members will see that is not mentioned in the bill, but it is. It is covered in the oath of office that all public servants take.

I use the term “public service” very generally. People may think that means the bureaucrats. Let us look at the bill very carefully. We now have a new definition of who, under this umbrella, would be covered by it. Every crown corporation is now included under that umbrella for the purposes of this bill, even though they are not public servants as we would understand it in our local jargon. It means every organization, agency, crown corporation, department, name it, the people who deliver those services in those departments and companies now have the protection of the act once it is passed. That is extremely significant.

There are a couple of exceptions such as the military, CSIS and the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee, I believe. The committee understood that within those groups there were administrative personnel who probably should have protection, et cetera. However, it was also important to understand that in this very narrow band of interests, being the military, national security and security interests, there already was a code of conduct and provisions whereby these matters could be dealt with.

Notwithstanding that, it also should be understood that even suppliers to the government would have access to go to the public sector integrity commissioner to bring forward information. The public at large, if they want, probably could do that too. There is no prohibition on information going to this officer. However, it is extremely important to understand that the new officer would have to be recommended for appointment by the government and scrutinized by parliamentarians before the appointment. After that time, this person, just like we have the powers of the Auditor General as a parallel, would have full authority and jurisdiction to make decisions, and that means the officer's decision would be the final one.

It is also important to understand that we are not talking about everybody's complaint. This is not to be the complaint department. The essence of the bill is to provide protection for whistleblowers. However, it also has to provide an orderly mechanism for this to happen.

There was concern about what would happen if we set up a separate commission and all of a sudden a wave of complaints came forward that could swamp the commissioner. The important thing for people to understand is what the area of interest is with regard to whistleblowing in this act. It is included under clause 8. For the purposes of this act, these wrongdoings would have to do with breaking some law of Canada, putting employees at risk or gross mismanagement. We are talking about the kinds of things that we experienced with the former privacy commissioner, Mr. Radwanski, where there were very serious problems. His whole department was terribly dysfunctional. There was gross mismanagement.

This is not a human resources body for employees who think they did not get a promotion they were entitled to or who think the employer had it in for them, and therefore they can go to the new commissioner thinking the he or she will take care of it. The commissioner will say that this is a human resources concern. There are mechanisms to deal with human resources issues throughout all government departments, agencies and crown corporations.

I have listened to all the debate. At the outset, the opposition has done a good job of its principal responsibility, and that is to deliver blows that would tenderize a turtle. Members of the opposition have to be as critical as possible and as selective as possible with information in order to bring up their point. They have done a good job of that. However, there is a fine line when someone takes information either out of context or do not provide it in all its glorious detail.

In most of the speeches provided to those members to read, reference has been made to the amendment to the Access to Information Act in clause 55 of the bill. This has basically been referred to by those members as the cover up clause. This provision, which was formerly a 20 year protection on disclosure of information, was amended down to 5 years in committee. The opposition has said that the government wants to have this in the bill so it can cover things up.

If they look at clause 55 in the bill, they would see it says that if the record came into existence less than five years before a request for information was made, the head of a government institution, and that is any of the various departments, agencies, crown corporations that are covered under this, including the RCMP, can refuse to release the information, “if the information identifies, or could reasonably be expected to lead to the identification of, a public servant who made a disclosure under that Act or who cooperated in an investigation under that Act”.

That is a bit different than what the members have been representing. I understand that it is very easy to take that little leap. They have to understand that clause 55, the consequential amendment to the Access to Information Act, is extremely important. The essence and the fundamental underpinning of the bill is to protect the identity of the whistleblower. That anonymity allowed the person to come forward in the Radwanski case. That individual came forward as long as they were provided with in camera proceedings and a lawyer.

There has to be some restriction on investigation notes and information relating to a whistleblower's statement or documents corroborating their statements so there can be less chance of reprisal against the person. We want to protect whistleblowers. We want to protect those who come forward in good faith to provide information which may identify a real wrongdoing as defined in the bill. The new commissioner has all the powers of investigation and resources available to do the job properly. Although those members like to talk fast and loose, clause 55 is extremely important.

I should remind members as well that when the Auditor General does an investigation, the information collected is protected for 20 years. It was set up that way to make absolutely sure that any information that came out could not somehow go back on the person who directly or indirectly was responsible for having that information come out.

Members have said that if we want to make the legislation better, we have to get rid of this clause. When it is put in the context of protecting the whistleblower, those members will not vote against it.

Another item that was raised with regard to the government by order in council possibly could eliminate a crown corporation for example, or anybody on schedule 1, which is the list of organizations covered by Bill C-11. Everybody is under this except the military, CSIS and the SIRC.

We have to think about this. I think Patrick Watson said that we should privatize the CBC, that we should put it out to tender. If we did that, we would save lots of money. What would happen if the CBC no longer was a crown corporation? What would happen if it were sold off like Petro-Canada to a private supplier? I think we probably should amend the bill in schedule 1 to delete the CBC from the list. Why would we do that? Because the CBC no longer would be a crown corporation. There could be a consolidation, or a name change or something else. What if we had a new crown corporation? Would we want it to be under this umbrella as well? Should we not have a clause in the bill that says that by order in council we can add another one?

Orders in council are not these secretive little things that people somehow squirrel away and frustrate the parliamentarians.

The member may laugh, but the member probably should get a lesson on gazetting. He should understand that order in council decisions are put into the Canada Gazette . They are there for all Canadians and parliamentarians to see. The member should clearly understand that if there were any change whatsoever to the addition or exclusion of any agency, department, crown or whatever, we would hear about it that very same day because employees would then know about it.

I do not see this as a threat. It is a housekeeping clause. It means that names change or consolidate, that people are added or deleted. It allows it to be done by order in council without raising a new bill to amend the act that was formally passed. It is an efficiency tool the government has to ensure we keep things up to date without having to tie up Parliament on things that are obvious. Let us be very careful about this.

I also was very interested in a few of the other points that were made. Members said that the government had to be pushed and that it did not much care about whistleblowing. I think that issue has been on the table since I was elected in 1993.

Bill C-25, which was introduced by another minister not the current minister sponsoring Bill C-11, was brought forward late in the Parliament. We had input and some opportunity to debate that bill.

Then Bill C-11 came forward. Members said in their speeches that it was the same dead bill, that it was lousy, et cetera. They have said that because they fixed it, it is okay and reasonably acceptable. Members should take the opportunity to look at the bill as returned from committee. All the changes that were made at committee are underlined. The most substantive change was to add the RCMP under organizations covered by the bill. While some members take credit for salvaging a terrible bill, if we look through it, the changes were housekeeping in nature. They were fine tuning the bill. As one speaker recently said, the broad strokes, the bill values, which push the foundations of the bill, were in the bill when we got it.

The other aspect is the bill was presented to us before second reading. It is a credit to Parliament to have the confidence in ordinary members of Parliament to send the bill to committee before there has been a vote in the House and before that approval in principle which really restricts the amount of changes a committee can make. What has happened with the bill is an excellent example of how Parliament works. I give full credit to all members of the committee who participated, full members and those who came in from time to time, for helping us to do a good job with the opportunity that was given to us. This was an excellent model.

Back two Parliaments ago when we had Bill C-25 on the modernization of the public service and public service renewal, one key issue that had to be addressed was the confidence level and morale of the public service. We are working on those things very slowly. Bill C-11 is part of what we can do to help to improve the confidence level and morale within the public service.

Public servants understand right now that this bill was about one thing and one thing only, and that was helping them to do a good job in order to bring forward information if they felt it was important to help them do a better job. I believe that Bill C-11 is an excellent bill and I thank all members for their support.

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11 a.m.


Louise Thibault Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague from Mississauga South to comment on the following points. He has talked about—I always listen to speeches in the language used by speakers—cleaning up Bill C-25. Perhaps he could tell us whether one of his reasons for wanting a cleanup could have something to do with the appointment of an independent agent, an officer of Parliament. The entire committee insisted on this, and that includes the hon. member since the recommendation was unanimous. I would like to hear him on this first.

Second, at the beginning of his speech, he said that he was convinced—and I share his conviction—that employees in the public service had such fear of reprisals that this became a stumbling block to disclosure, up until now, without legislation to protect them. The hon. member even mentioned a specific case to illustrate his point.

I would like to hear the hon. member on that and to know what he thinks of the nature of some of the actions that, unfortunately, we have been witnessing in the past two or three years in particular. Given the wrongdoings, abuse, weak governance and the government's misspending of public money, does he believe that the nature of such actions will be even more of a disincentive to disclosure by employees? Will they feel fully protected and free to make disclosures? We can think of the sponsorship scandal, the gun registry scandal and the outrageous spending. Will this raise similar fears among employees, or will the employees feel sufficiently protected to make disclosures, even in the context of scandals like those ones?

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11 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me answer the last question first. I am very confident that this bill will achieve its objectives. I am also very hopeful, cautiously optimistic, that it will receive the support of the public service as defined, and that it will be integrated and communicated to all of the stakeholders, which are all of us quite frankly, so that it has every opportunity to be successful.

However, the member well knows, and we have talked about this, that it is extremely important that we be vigilant with this new bill and that should the occasion occur where we should make or propose any changes, that certainly we should do that at the earliest opportunity and not wait for the five year mandate of review.

On the housekeeping issue, I misspoke myself. I said that all the changes were of a housekeeping nature and just tidying up. There are important ones in there and I want to give credit to this particular member who made an amendment to the bill. It says that if someone is in a smaller department and an allegation of a wrongdoing does come forward, even though that person is not identified and it is likely that someone is going to pretty well figure out who it is anyway, there should be this provision where that person would get a temporary posting outside of that department to provide the individual with some security. I think that is a very constructive change that was made and it is the kind of change we have come to receive from this member in her work on the government operations committee.

The member also talked about the reprisal issue. I know that it will always be a problem. One will never be able to prove it, but we are taking a positive step.

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11 a.m.


Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member across for his statement and I would like to say that I am up to tenderize some more turtles, as he put it. He talked about the Conservative Party using little bits of information or using lack of information. I would like to help him with a few of the statements he made.

Certainly, under clause 55, the anonymous protection against reprisal, that is exactly what the clause says and it is there to do that, to protect the privacy of the person making the allegation of wrongdoing. All we are trying to state is that it also points out a very convenient place to hide wrongdoing if indeed that is what we wanted to do. Because it can be hidden for five years, that clause will allow it to be done. It is not that we do not trust the government to be forthcoming with wrongdoing when it discovers it, but it has proven itself not to be able to do so.

Under schedule 1, the list of the crown corporations and departments of government that are in the bill, he states that it is only there simply for housekeeping, simply to allow them to opt out if someone was to change the name of a crown corporation or if a crown corporation went private, it would be cleaned up that way. I hope that is truly the only reason for that clause. It certainly could have been handled by simply saying all government and crown corporation employees do not need to have a schedule. Perhaps then we would not have the opportunity in the background where people could make a decision on order in council to opt out of a crown corporation or a government body simply because wrongdoing was found there. We are not saying that is the purpose of the clause; we are saying the opportunity is there for it.

On the last little bit there was talk of the commitment to quality, the commitment to a good bill, and the commitment by the government to bring forward whistleblowing legislation as promised in 1993. In talking about quality, all of the witnesses who we saw on Bill C-11 also talked about Bill C-25. They asked for the same types of changes including an independent office on whistleblowing and yet protecting public servants was completely ignored in this version until it was massaged in committee. I would like him to comment on that.

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Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on clause 55, the request for information under access to information, the member certainly knows that those requesting the information can appeal and that appeal goes through the access to information officer, another honourable officer of this Parliament.

At some point in time we really have to trust someone because an investigation would be done to ensure that the point that is made in the bill, and that is protecting the identity of the whistleblower, comes first before the availability of information.

Second, with regard to the schedule, the member well knows that if it is an order in council it gets gazetted and there will be new crown corporations. There may be some that are consolidated et cetera. They may have to be amended. It can be done instead of having a new bill to amend it and tying up Parliament. It is housekeeping in nature. If somebody just changed the name and everything else was the same, would we really want have a bill go through all stages of Parliament?

Finally, I wish to comment on the quality of witnesses and what they told us on Bill C-25. We heard witnesses that told us some things during Bill C-11. If we took everything that everybody said, we would have a very bad bill. I think that quite frankly the government's referral of Bill C-11 to committee after first reading was a recognition that there was still not 100% consensus on some of the sticky points. It was important that the committee had the opportunity to hear from those witnesses and others to fill it in to make a final determination of consensus.

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Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am well aware of the member's views on the bill and I think we are in agreement on many aspects of it. However, would he agree with me that, as critical as the details of the bill certainly are, implementation of this bill once it becomes law is going to be critical? The most compelling issue that we have to face, I think, is what kind of a plan will his government have to roll out for the implementation, so that it squashes the genuine fears among the public service? How will he convince public servants that it is now going to be safe to come forward? Is there a plan in place to convince public servants of that?

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11:05 a.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to give credit to this member who was vice-chair of the government operations subcommittee on whistleblowing two Parliaments ago. He had, as usual, always done his homework before coming to committee and has a great deal to celebrate along with the rest of us with regard to making this a good bill.

He is quite right and I agree fully. The implementation is going to be vital, just as it was with the modernization of the public service under the previous Bill C-25, not the whistleblower bill. We are dealing with sensitive matters. We understand the morale issues, and the support and confidence levels within the public service.

The important issue here is that we have partners throughout all of the so-called stakeholders and those under schedule 1 now. They all have a job to do, which is to educate their employees. The real test and the real confidence indicator will be the appointment of a clearly, highly qualified and supported commissioner for this post. If Canadians and public servants have confidence in this new commissioner, we will have gone a long way to achieving what the member wishes.

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11:10 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-11. I will be speaking in support of the bill. I would not say that I do so grudgingly, but let me say that I will be supporting the bill because I agree with and support the spirit of the bill. There are elements of the bill which still need some cleaning up. I think a change of government would go a long way toward effecting those positive changes that need to be made to the bill to make it a better bill than it is now, but generally speaking, the spirit of the bill is something I certainly can support.

I want to talk about that spirit and give a couple of examples. If this bill had been in effect years ago, some of the things we have experienced over the last decade or so might not have surfaced. We might have had a better government. We might have protected the taxpayer more. We might have seen the kind of Parliament that worked in the way most Canadians wish it to work.

The spirit of the bill is to effect two things, that is, to protect the identity of those individuals within the public service who wish to come forward to inform someone of wrongdoing, of criminal wrongdoing, perhaps, of illegal activities that are occurring within their particular sphere of influence, within their government department or within their agency, and not only protect them when coming forward, but protect their identity from ever being disclosed.

They need to be protected, obviously, because if any public servants felt that by coming forward they would be punished, the amount of information coming forward would be greatly lessened. If any members of the public service feel they have a true and legitimate fear of reprisal, retribution or punishment, obviously they will be very reluctant, to say the least, to come forward with any information that might point the finger at one of their superiors.

I think we have no better example to look at than what has been commonly referred to as the biggest political scandal in Canadian history, the sponsorship scandal, and what happened over the course of the last decade and what might have happened had this bill been in effect.

I think most Canadians now are familiar with the elements of the sponsorship scandal, but I want to dwell on them again just for a moment, because I think the information bears repeating. Generally speaking, what happened was the following. Over the course of three consecutive federal elections, there seemed to be, there was, an orchestrated plan perpetrated by members of the Liberal Party of Canada to take taxpayers' dollars that were part of the sponsorship program and funnel that money illegally back to the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec, to the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada, to assist the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec with election activities. Clearly this is of great concern to all Canadians, because not only it is highly illegal, it is reprehensible on a moral basis as well.

Let us just think for a moment about what might have happened if we had had Bill C-11 in place a decade ago. During the Gomery commission investigation into allegations of misuse of taxpayers' dollars in the sponsorship scandal, one of the things we learned was that two directors general of the Quebec Liberal Party testified that they in fact took money from the sponsorship program and delivered that money to organizers, to individuals within the Quebec Liberal Party, to assist these people to perform election related duties during federal elections. In other words, they laundered money back to the Liberal Party of Canada to allow the Liberals to try to increase their political profile and to increase their election readiness, preparedness and that type of thing.

I can assure the House that if legislation like this were in place, that might not have occurred. Just for clarification purposes, in provinces outside Quebec the term “director general” refers to a position mostly commonly known as executive director. I have some knowledge of the role of an executive director of a political party since in a former life that is the position I held with two political parties in my home province of Saskatchewan. I was the executive director of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan. I was also the general manager of the Saskatchewan Party. “General manager” was a term that we equated with executive director.

I can assure members that had anyone in our party in Saskatchewan at any time suggested that we concoct some sort of money laundering scheme similar to that of the sponsorship scandal and asked me in my role as an executive director to help implement this scheme by funnelling money to one of my political operatives, I would not have done that without at least a very serious, honest and frank discussion with other members of my party.

I can assure members that, at least in my opinion, the directors general who testified before the Gomery commission would not have carried on this activity without getting approval from someone else, someone higher up the political food chain. There is no director general and no executive director in Canada, in my opinion, who would carry on illegal activities such as this on his or her own accord. In my opinion, someone higher in authority than the directors general of the Quebec wing of the Liberal Party of Canada authorized this type of illegal activity. They were told to do these types of things.

My point is that someone, or perhaps many other people, knew of this activity. They knew of this plan. They knew of this scheme. Why did no one come forward? Was it that every member of the Liberal Party in Quebec was corrupt and every single member who was privy to this information and privy to this illegal scheme agreed with it? Was it that they said, “Let us flaunt the law, let us money launder and steal money from Canadian taxpayers. It is okay. We are Liberals”. Perhaps they did. Perhaps every single person who was aware of this activity agreed with it, condoned the activity, and thought that it was perfectly normal and legitimate to do because of course as Liberals they were above the law.

Although I have spoken of this type of activity before, perhaps, and have made suggestions that all of these members who were complicit in this activity were on the same page, I honestly do not think that would be the case. I think there would be some people who were aware of these activities and who did not agree with them, and who thought this would be absolutely unconscionable and reprehensible, not to say highly illegal, but they did not come forward.

Until the Auditor General started seriously investigating the activities surrounding the sponsorship program, no one came forward internally from the Liberal Party of Canada to say, “I think something is amiss here. I think there are some problems”. Why did they not come forward? I can only guess about this. Perhaps they did not because there was no protection for them to come forward.

Certainly, a scandal of the size and scope of the sponsorship scandal, as we have seen, would have prevented individuals from coming forward. If they felt that their jobs were in jeopardy, that their future livelihoods and incomes were in jeopardy, they would not have come forward.

This bill goes a long way toward preventing that type of attitude from employees. Now, hopefully, with Bill C-11 in place, they would feel assured that they could come forward with information which would be both informative and salient, and they would not be punished and their names would not be released. They would feel that the information they provide to someone, and in this case hopefully it will be the independent commissioner, would result in preventing this type of illegal activity from occurring again, and those individuals involved with these types of schemes would be punished but the individual who came forward with that information would not be punished.

I think that if we had had had Bill C-11 in place a decade ago, there is a reasonable chance that the sponsorship scandal would not have occurred, or at least it would not have gone down the road as far as it did. After all, and I will just repeat myself, the sponsorship scandal occurred over three consecutive federal elections.

This program was not an isolated incident. This scandal occurred successively over three federal elections. Most Canadians I have spoken with have asked, “How in the world could they get away with this?” How in the world could anyone perpetrate a scheme this large without someone knowing, without someone coming forward and saying, “This is wrong, stop it, this is absolutely reprehensible”. Perhaps the reason no one came forward is that they were afraid. They were afraid of what might happen to their careers if they came forward.

Bill C-11 is an extremely important piece of legislation in that regard. It allows individuals who see wrongdoing, who see activities that should not be condoned, to come forward without fear of reprisal or retribution or punishment. That is the spirit of the bill and it is certainly something that I totally agree with. It is something that should have happened a long, long time ago, but as the saying goes, better late than never.

Not only do I agree with the spirit of the bill, but I agree with one of the other comments that my colleague from Mississauga South mentioned earlier. He was giving credit to committee members who worked on the amendments to the original bill to get it to the state that it is in now. I want to make a comment for all my colleagues here. I think that as parliamentarians we should all be concerned with only one thing, and that is the fact that collectively we need to bring forward legislation, regardless of subject material, in a cooperative manner that brings forward the best possible legislation for Canadians.

Quite frankly, as an individual I do not care if it is a Liberal initiative, a Conservative initiative, or a Bloc Québécois or NDP initiative, as long as the end result is something that provides good government and good legislation. With that fact, I totally agree with my colleague from Mississauga South that the committee should be applauded for the fine work it did.

I also have to give a bit of a partisan plug here. It was the Conservative members of that committee who drove many of the amendments from the original bill that are now contained in the current Bill C-11. Some of those amendments were not only extremely important but extremely timely.

The member for Mississauga South spoke of the intent of clause 55 and why it was put in. This is one clause that the Conservative members on the committee were very much opposed to, because it states that information disclosed from a whistleblower can be withheld from the public purview for a period of five years.

Here is where we Conservative members differ in opinion from the member for Mississauga South. He suggested that this is a good clause because the primary function of the bill is to protect the identity of the whistleblowers. He said in regard to any head of any department that if he or she legitimately believes the information being released could possibly lead to the identification of the whistleblower, this gives the head of that department the right to withhold information for up to five years.

I would humbly suggest to the member for Mississauga South that any department heads of any crown corporations or agencies or line departments in government could make the argument that they could not release the information because they believe that the information, once it is public, could perhaps lead to the identification of the person who provided that information. Therefore, they would say, that would be a legitimate reason to withhold it for up to five years. That destroys the intent and the spirit of the bill.

Yes, we must protect the identification of the whistleblower, but even more important is the fact that the information the person wants to release to prevent illegal activities from occurring should be provided and should be made available to the public, to the Auditor General, to Parliament in whole, without anyone arbitrarily determining and choosing to withhold it for five years because it might lead to the identification of the person who provided that information, or the whistleblower.

I and most Conservative members believe that clause should be eliminated and when a Conservative government is elected that clause will be eliminated from the bill. The current information officer, another officer of Parliament, agrees with our take on that clause, which is that it should be removed, as should any reference to special exemptions for crown corporations. If we really want to make this truly effective, this legislation should apply equally to all arms of government, whether they be crown corporations, line departments or agencies.

The spirit of the bill is to ensure that Canadians and Canadian taxpayers are protected, that individuals with information about wrongdoing by superiors in government can come forward without fear of reprisal, without punishment and that their identities would be protected. While I agree with that wholeheartedly, should that not apply equally to all arms of government? Why should there be exceptions? In my humble opinion there should not.

I also want to speak briefly to the new position that we hope the bill will result in and that is an independent information officer who will report directly to Parliament as opposed to directly to a minister. I heartily approve of this portion of the legislation. The original bill, as I am sure the House is aware and most Canadians are aware, according to the legislation drafted and presented by the government, was that individuals would report to a superior or to someone perhaps in their own department and, ultimately, it would go to a minister of the crown and then perhaps that information would be made public. I think there are too many ifs in that. There are too many variables to really suggest that the information would protect the identity of the whistleblower and protect the whistleblower from political reprisal.

Allowing the office of an independent commissioner to be established to deal with these issues is absolutely a right step and a correct step.

I would suggest, however, that if we want to go one step further we should give more powers to that independent commissioner. We would like to see the power to grant more generous compensation to whistleblowers who have been reprised against. Frankly, something that is still a concern of mine is that, regardless of this legislation, I am somewhat fearful that in the future any government, whether it be a Liberal government, a Conservative government or any other government, might still choose to take actions against those individuals who came forward to give information that might be considered politically damaging or, at the least, embarrassing.

I would like to make sure that in the future we take whatever steps that might be necessary to provide even more protection and perhaps even compensation for those whistleblowers.

This is a long overdue piece of legislation. Once again, I applaud all members of the committee who came to some agreement on amendments to the bill. It is something that I hope in future will prevent the type of actions that we have seen, like the sponsorship scandal and the Dingwall case, from ever occurring again.

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11:30 a.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.


Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member cannot have it both ways. He cannot stand around and criticize the government for being disinterested in accountability without also acknowledging the fact that being the government we are the ones who introduced this bill with respect to whistleblower legislation. It is a very good bill and, by his own words, his party supports it, as do other parties.

Quite correctly, we have all acknowledged the contribution that has been made by all parties. I think the reason for that is that the minority government situation right now has allowed all parties to make those contributions and we have been very willing to extract the best from everybody so we can build the best legislation for Canadians.

It would be worthwhile to go back and dispel some of the horrible rhetoric that the member has been trotting out on the government and set the record straight once again on what actually occurred when the current Prime Minister came into power at the end of 2003. One of the first things he did when he came into power and took the helm of the government was to end the sponsorship program. He did that within 48 hours of getting into his current position.

The second thing he did, correctly, was to hire lawyers to actually investigate the situation, find the people who were responsible and to get the money back. He also called in the RCMP.

There was not a whole lot more that anybody could actually do, but he did. He set up the Gomery inquiry in an effort to ensure the truth to this particular issue would come out in a very public and transparent way. All of us are members of Parliament and taxpayers and we would be appalled if someone were misrepresenting or misappropriating taxpayer money.

Does the hon. member not wish to compliment the government on the initiatives that we have put forth, such as hiring lawyers to prosecute the individuals involved, calling in the RCMP, setting up the Gomery inquiry and trying to get the moneys back, which about $45 million is on the table now to be extracted back for the taxpayers?

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11:30 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise slightly bemused that the member would suggest that I would compliment the government on trying to clean up the mess that it created to begin with.

Let us talk some more about the sponsorship scandal. I am very glad the hon. member across the floor raised it again to allow me a few more moments to dwell on that because, again, this is something that is so reprehensible that no Canadian taxpayer should ever forget what the Liberal Party of Canada did. The biggest fraud that was perpetrated on the Canadian taxpayers was the sponsorship scandal.

Specifically, let me reference back to what the hon. member said when he asked: Should we not congratulate the Prime Minister because within 48 hours of his successful leadership bid and assuming the position of Prime Minister he cancelled the sponsorship program?

I can recall with great clarity the Prime Minister's words when he cancelled that. He takes great pride in the fact that, “I cancelled that because this demonstrates to all Canadians my commitment to ensure that we have proper, clean, honest and accountable government”. He was then asked the obvious question, “Why did you cancel it within 48 hours? What information did you have that made you make this your first official act of office?” He said, “Well, I didn't really know anything but I had heard rumours”.

It just floors me that here is the duly elected Prime Minister, who was previously the finance minister of this land, who had heard rumours about possible irregularities, or worse, within the sponsorship program and did nothing and then he tries to take credit for the fact that he cancelled it.

The Prime Minister, at that time, knew the jig was up. He knew the Auditor General was on to it. He knew this would be uncovered and that the lid would be blown off and so, after the fact, the Prime Minister tried to say that he should be the good guy. For the hon. member to suggest that we, in some form, should congratulate the government is laughable.

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11:35 a.m.


Bernard Cleary Bloc Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly, the members of this House support any positive measures to protect public servants who speak out to help the government manage.

It is a given to say that we support, this bill in part. Obviously, it is equally important that we be able to enforce this bill. However, in order to be able to enforce it, sources must be protected. By appointing a commissioner who will be able to assist in this regard, the government is moving toward a solution.

However, there is no room for magical thinking, either, believing that this fixes everything and that people will be inclined to disclose any number of things in complete confidence. We must not forget that the public servants in office were often appointed by the Liberal Party: over the past century, the Liberal Party has had the opportunity to hire and appoint public servants. As a result, it is clear that such individuals will want or be in a position to protect the government.

In my opinion, the government must ensure that people continue to have confidence once they have disclosed wrongdoing. This confidence will not be instilled solely through a bill or legislation. It will be instilled through the individual—I am thinking of the commissioner—or organizations that will put people at ease, so that they can feel good about filing a complaint.

In my opinion, this is an interesting bill. However, we must also include conditions that will encourage people to do what they are meant to do.

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11:35 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I basically agree with what my hon. colleague has suggested. I think the main point my colleague was trying to get at was the fact that Canadians need a professional public service. We need individuals working on behalf of Canadian taxpayers who are professional on every level, not political appointments, not individuals working supposedly on behalf of Canadian taxpayers, but really working for their political masters. We do not need that. We need to ensure that all appointments made are done with the greatest level of scrutiny to ensure that Canadians are well represented. Without question, I agree with my colleague on that point.

I would suggest that in the future we may want to look at other ways of strengthening the hiring processes within the public service of Canada to ensure that the political patronage appointments that we consistently see from the government and, frankly, other governments on a provincial level across Canada, are, for the most part, eliminated.

I am also a realist and I understand completely that in many cases governments of all stripes will continue to appoint some of their political cronies to certain high level positions. However let me state unequivocally that I am not totally against political patronage appointments as long as, and this is the qualifier that I must insist upon, they are qualified to do the job. After all, it is only natural that any government of any political stripe wants to have people who agree with its political philosophy in areas in which it can influence the direction of the department or the government agency it is representing.

In other words, any government of any political stripe, should work with the public service in the form of a ballet. If the government moves one way, the public service should move with it. If the government moves the other way, the public service should move with it. What we see sometimes is a break dance rather than a ballet and that is unproductive.

If individuals are qualified, political patronage appointments are something that perhaps we will never eliminate, but the first priority should be and must be professional civil servants in all cases.

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11:40 a.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to again speak on Bill C-11. When all the members of the House decide to join forces to ensure the success of a bill, we see that things can be done quickly. I last spoke on this bill less than 24 hours ago, so it is possible to move quickly when we want to.

Since people's comments and speeches often lose sight of the main objective of a bill, I will start by reading the title of Bill C-11: An Act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings.” The purpose of this bill is to establish a procedure for disclosure and to protect those making disclosures.

I have listened to, and read, the speech by the President of the Treasury Board. I too would like to draw attention to the invaluable work done by the members of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, including the permanent members, among them my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, and the other members, both occasional and semi-permanent. We were always extremely glad of their helpful suggestions.

I would also like to thank certain colleagues, among them the hon. member for Mississauga South, who has shown a marked interest in Bill C-11 since yesterday, as has my colleague from Terrebonne—Blainville. I also congratulate her for introducing a bill in complementarity to Bill C-11. I use that term, but I am sure there are more appropriate words in a dictionary of synonyms. The bill in question is Bill C-360, the purpose of which is to help the victims of psychological harassment and to recognize the harmful effects of such harassment on federal public servants.

My congratulations to her, and my thanks for her interest in Bill C-11, now at the third reading stage. I know that yesterday she questioned the President of the Treasury Board on the repercussions and also on the complementarity of bills C-11 and C-360. The President of the Treasury Board has shown some openness to meet with my colleague in order to see how these two could work together, how they could be dovetailed.

Many normal, relevant, important questions on Bill C-11 were raised by hon. members in this House and I am sure that those who sat on the committee on a regular basis helped us to clarify our thinking or realize that in fact we could have better defined or taken into account certain aspects of the bill, which naturally can be improved upon.

In my opinion, every bill presented in this House can be improved upon, and it is in listening to our colleagues and their suggestions that we see just how this can be done. Nonetheless, we must be careful when we consider the bill or when we make suggestions, because we must look at what is already included in the bill. I will come back to that a little later.

Some aspects of the bill also deserve to be acknowledged and repeated, even if hon. members have already repeated them. In my opinion, it is highly important to repeat them for the public servants watching us, those who worked on developing the bill, and also to respond to clause 4 of the bill, which stipulates:

The Minister must promote ethical practices in the public sector and a positive environment for disclosing wrongdoings by disseminating knowledge of this Act and information about its purposes and processes and by any other means that he or she considers appropriate.

Yesterday, I ran out of time to finish my speech. I will spend more time today talking about raising awareness and disseminating information.

The hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent pointed out earlier that this bill is not a panacea. We will not fix every problem in the federal public service or in Canada with this bill. Nonetheless, this bill is certainly a step in the right direction for improving working conditions and relations and ultimately for moving toward sound management of public funds.

When this bill is given royal assent, it will be highly important for the government, through the Treasury Board, to run an awareness campaign to inform public servants covered under the legislation of the important tool parliamentarians will have given them.

I have been entrusted with multiple mandates here in the House, and if there is any bill that I am proud to see become law, it is this one. I talk about it in my riding whenever I can—as well as about my role as a member of the opposition. I had the opportunity to do so recently at my nomination. If any bill makes me proud of the work we can accomplish, together and with rigour, in this House, particularly under a minority government, it is Bill C-11. I know that it will protect public servants, ensure they benefit from healthier working conditions and encourage disclosure whenever wrongdoing occurs within their working group or their immediate work environment.

I hope that the President of the Treasury Board and the government will be able to provide adequate information so that public servants can be made aware of the important tool they currently have at their disposal, a tool that will ensure they benefit from better working conditions.

Further down in the bill, subclause 5(1) indicates that “The Treasury Board must establish a code of conduct applicable to the public sector”. Then, in subclause 5(3), we read, “Before the code of conduct is established, the Minister must consult with the employee organizations certified as bargaining agents in the public sector”.

During discussions and comments on how to improve this bill, Nycole Turmel, representing the public service union, was consulted and worked closely with parliamentarians in order to have a bill that takes public servants into consideration and best meets their expectations.

A code of conduct must, then, be tabled by the President of the Treasury Board. However, this code of conduct must be established in cooperation with the public service union. Obtaining this degree of collaboration was extremely important to us. The collaboration that existed within the committee is now needed to develop the bill.

I repeat that we also defined wrongdoing. One of the questions that we were asked yesterday was extremely relevant. Paragraph 8( c ) mentions “a gross mismanagement in the public sector”. I had asked the question in committee as to why use the word “gross”, when it could have simply read “a mismanagement in the public sector”. This gives public servants and the integrity commissioner the freedom to determine what constitutes gross mismanagement.

I am convinced that others share my view that the integrity commissioner must not be inundated with trivial matters. Granted, each dollar paid in taxes by Canadian citizens has to be administered in a serious and rigorous manner. But in any business, be it a corner store, a general store or a pharmacy, man will do what man will do, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, there are dishonest individuals who doctor inventories or numbers. The whole government, with a budget of hundreds of billions of dollars, cannot therefore be expected to ever be made 100% perfect.

On the subject of trivial matters, for our listeners, $1,000 or $5,000 do not represent trivial amounts of money; these are large amounts. In other cases, other realities, other places, employees who observe mismanagement in their immediate work surroundings may complain to their union steward or immediate supervisor. In reference to relatively small but nevertheless significant amounts, instead of describing them as “trivial”, it would be more appropriate to talk about relatively small but nevertheless significant amounts.

When a really significant situation arises, however, employees ask themselves if it constitutes gross mismanagement in the public service. They determine on their own whether there was indeed gross mismanagement, in which case they make a disclosure, a complaint, to the integrity commissioner, who may agree that there was gross mismanagement. They get to exercise their freedom of choice and think for themselves. Rightly or wrongly, we have agreed in committee that this was one way of handling or dealing with this kind of wrongdoing and its definition.

Further on in the bill, the text addresses the protection of those making disclosures. Clause 19 reads: “No person shall take any reprisal against a public servant.” Further on, there is mention of the person's horizontal transfer without loss of benefits or seniority.

I have listened carefully to the comments, criticisms and suggested improvements to the bill, and find them overall totally legitimate. For that reason, we have included a five-year review in the bill, somewhat along the lines of the one in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. I feel there ought to be similar provisions in the Official Languages Act as well. Unfortunately, there has been no review of that act and it is beginning to collect cobwebs. I do not know whether Official Languages Commissioner Dyane Adam would agree with me, but I feel that legislation dating back to 1968, with a revision in 1988 and nothing since, might well be expected to need reviewing, considering the way society has changed. That is what Bill C-11 does.

Bill C-11 gives the government the benefit of the doubt. Initially, there will be an integrity commissioner appointed. We know how well known the Auditor General and the Commissioner of Official Languages are today for their exemplary and rigorous work. We can only hope that the man or woman appointed as public sector integrity commissioner will be equally well known, but not for having brought major scandals to light. We hope there will be no such scandals. We hope that the management of public funds and the working people's money will be done efficiently.

Should there be a sufficiently high number of complaints requiring public servants to meet with the commissioner, as my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent has just said, there ought to be a climate of trust in place.

Certainly the first two or three people to disclose will be afraid, as they are today, of being identified, of being the victims of reprisals, of being involved in the trial runs of a new system. The commissioner and his or her staff will have to ensure that the first complaints set an example to other public servants who see wrongdoing taking place, so that they will also feel free to disclose.

Between the first and second draft, we included RCMP officers and we have now excluded various positions, such as positions with the Canadian Forces. I am also thinking of CSIS, in terms of telecommunications.

These groups have been excluded for reasons related to national security. They appeared before the committee and told us that, for national security reasons, they did not want this bill to apply to them.

These groups told us that they agreed, on the condition that these institutions have a similar measure allowing employees of these institutions to lay a complaint. In five years, or even earlier, we will be able to see if those who asked for protection for national security reasons kept their promise to comply with these conditions.

Earlier, I was talking to a Radio-Canada host. I told him that Radio-Canada is not subject to Bill C-11. However, the committee learned that Radio-Canada already has a similar tool in place for its employees. As a result, this crown corporation is excluded from Bill C-11, because it has an equivalent measure in place for its employees.

So, the entire public service benefits from adequate, professional and rigorous protection. Those who do not must have a similar and comparable measure that shall be subject to the approval of the Standing Committee on Governmental Operations and Estimates. Those who are not protected by Bill C-11, but who already have a similar measure in place, will have to test how well it works with regard to any future complaints.

The integrity commissioner will now be an independent officer, which was not the case in the initial version of the bill. We think the definition of wrongdoing will not leave any room for a series of frivolous and vexatious complaints. I believe the terms “frivolous” and “vexatious” were dropped from the initial version—I will have to verify that—to prevent the bill from being used as a pressure tactic during the negotiation of collective agreements. Public servants must not use Bill C-11 to go against its philosophy, its intent and its initial purpose, which is to protect public servants and provide them with a legal framework.

All these corrections were made to the bill in light of comments by witnesses, including Mr. Keyserlingk, who was the integrity officer for a while and who asked the government to give the rules or existing policy a legal framework. The existing policy was inadequate and did not have the necessary authority or tools to defend public servants properly. All this work was accomplished because of everyone's cooperation and good will.

We in the Bloc Québécois, like my colleagues from the Conservative party and all the other parties, believe we have come up with a bill that, although imperfect in some parts, responds to the expectations resulting from the sponsorship scandal, the goings-on of the privacy commissioner, Mr. Radwanski, and the current case involving Mr. Dingwall at the Royal Canadian Mint. Just this morning the papers reported that some ministers in this government, including the former president of the Treasury Board, broke Treasury Board rules and travelled on private jets instead of taking commercial flights, which would promote sound management of public funds.

Public servants who witness such wrongdoings could disclose them. Certainly, ministers and deputy ministers will be more careful. Exemplary public servants could disclose wrongdoings in the same way Allan Cutler disclosed the sponsorship scandal, despite the enormous pressure dissuading him from doing so. According to comments made in committee, this public servant would have been a little more comfortable had the bill been in place, although he still would have been afraid.

Time will tell whether the bill will meet all its objectives.

It would be my pleasure to answer any questions.

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Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.


Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to take significant umbrage at a comment that was made by the previous Conservative speaker on the issue of the public service. The former speaker lamented the fact that we did not have a professional public service.

Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that every member in the House knows, at least on this side and I am sure on most sides, that we have a very professional public service. It is full of intelligent, competent, and hard working people who give of themselves for Canada and the Canadian public. I hope the Conservative member who made those appalling comments about the public service will retract them. I assume it is not a position of the Conservative Party.

My hon. friend from the Bloc Québécois has heard the comments I made concerning changes that the government has made with respect to crown corporations and introducing new measures for accountability. One of the hallmarks of this government is the fact that it has taken this issue with both hands and tackled it. It is a big issue and a number of substantive changes have been introduced for the public to ensure the moneys that the hard working Canadian taxpayer gives to the government and the House to spend on their behalf is done in a wise and effective fashion.

Does he approve of the changes that the President of the Treasury Board has made with respect to bringing crown corporations under the watchful gaze of the Auditor General and also the new access to information opportunities that will now be applied to crown corporations which did not exist before?

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Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I recognize the tremendous open-mindedness of the President of Treasury Board. I recognize the tremendous open-mindedness of the Liberals, who were members of the Standing Committee on Governmental Operations and Estimates. However, unfortunately, their tremendous open-mindedness exists only within the context of a minority government.

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Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, this bill is a big step forward. Make no mistake, the members worked hard in order to reach agreement on this bill. Be that as it may, the fact remains that every member of every party on the committee had to be able to speak as one—particularly with regard to a bill as sensitive as this one.

In my opinion, this bill was essential. It is unfortunate that, today, we cannot predict its impact. However, I am quite hopeful that it will give public service employees who witness wrongdoing and want to disclose it the confidence to do so. We will see if this bill and its provisions are effective over time.

However, I am concerned—my colleague from Repentigny raised a point earlier. Parallel with this bill, I also introduced Bill C-360 to protect victims of psychological harassment. Despite the extensive protection we are able to offer public servants who disclose wrongdoing, psychological harassment will always be the aftermath.

This morning, I received three e-mails from former public servants who followed yesterday's debates. They congratulated me for being the only one who dared lift the veil on what would come after. I greatly appreciate the fact that my colleague from Repentigny has just revisited the aspect of protection and the legislative framework of the bill. The three e-mails I received said more or less this: “Ms. Bourgeois, after the famous 60 days of protection, what will happen if we are transferred to a new place, moved to another department? Then what will happen? Even if people do not know the name of those who make the disclosures, people will end up knowing, or thinking they know, because everything eventually becomes general knowledge. The public service is a closed microcosm.”

That reminded me of something I said here in the House yesterday. I said that the bill is a huge step forward but that there was a little something lacking, and that was iron-clad protection for public servants who make disclosures. That is something that I am proposing along with my bill, but I would also ask that this bill include someone competent who would listen to federal public servants and those covered by the Canada Labour Code. This independent commissioner could be the same one as proposed in Bill C-11, but that person would have to have a staff mandated to deal with public servants subjected to reprisals. These staff members would be able to act even 60 or 120 days after the fact. According to the bill, unless I have misunderstood—and I would like to be told so, if that is the case—the complaint may be filed after that 60-day period if the board deems this appropriate under the circumstances.

With all these “mays” and “ifs” anything is possible, but we are not necessarily resolving the problem. That is what public servants are worried about because they do not have this iron-clad protection. The workplace is merciless toward public servants who blow the whistle. A public servant might be exposing the practice of a government, or, just as likely, the actions of a superior.

I want to close by saying that there is no guarantee that the public servant disclosing wrongdoing can be protected from intimidation, abuse of power, isolation or everyone ganging up on him. I thought that was what the President of the Treasury Board realized yesterday when he nodded in agreement with me that there was a little something missing.

I am not sure there will be as many disclosures as we hope. This bill shows transparency. It goes far beyond any political party. I have heard it said the game here in this House is power. Of course there is criticism. Nonetheless, it goes beyond any political party since it will allow public servants, honest workers, to say, “I am doing this because I do not accept the situation. If I want to sleep well at night, then I will disclose this wrongdoing.” This bill is good, but it needs to go a little further and supplementary protection needs to be added to it.

I now want to ask my colleague why the Canadian Forces were excluded from this bill. He touched on this, but I would like him to elaborate. I want him to explain it again. Many disclosure, harassment and intimidation cases come from National Defence or the Canadian Forces. Of course we trust them. They have their own way of managing and processing complaints as they see fit. Nonetheless, I have some reservations.

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12:10 p.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would have liked to have had the time to answer my colleague's numerous questions. I thought my speeches today and yesterday had done the job, not to mention our discussion after my speech yesterday. It appears not to have done the trick. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to answer all the multitude of questions she raised during her speech.

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October 4th, 2005 / 12:10 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with some satisfaction that I rise on behalf of the NDP to speak to Bill C-11 at third reading. It has been eight long years that I have been seized of this issue and trying to develop some satisfying amendments regarding the protection of whistleblowers. It looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel. By the end of this business day in fact we may pass a significant, satisfactory whistleblowing bill. It is very gratifying for me to address this one last time, I hope, in my career.

I emphasize the words “a bill for the protection of whistleblowers”. I should point out at the outset that that in itself is progress. The original bill that we dealt with in the previous Parliament, Bill C-25, a bill which my colleague from Mississauga South touched on in his remarks, was all about putting in place a system by which people could blow the whistle on wrongdoing. It made very little mention of and had very little emphasis on the protection of the person who blew the whistle on wrongdoing. It struck me that the emphasis was all about protecting ministers from whistleblowers, not about protecting whistleblowers. We were critical of that from the outset. We raised it a number of times. It would seem that our presentations on that issue resonated because we now see that Bill C-11 is titled “an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings”.

In a perfect world I would even reverse those points and say that this is an act to protect whistleblowers. Without going into the technical details of the bill, the biggest challenge we have now is to convince the public sector that it is going to be okay. Somehow we have to mitigate a century of distrust on the part of the public servants. The empirical evidence to them has been that if they open their mouths and blow the whistle, they are putting their jobs at risk and nobody can really protect them. That has been the prevailing wisdom, well deservedly I am afraid.

As a former trade union leader, if I were a union leader in the public sector and one of the people I represented came to me for advice saying, “I have evidence of a wrongdoing here; I am tempted to go forward and blow the whistle”, my advice would have had to be, “Keep your mouth shut because I cannot protect you. Your employer may persecute you, discipline you or make your life difficult as a result of your coming forward and blowing the whistle”. My advice would have had to be not to do it.

Even though I am well aware of the legal obligation to report breaking the law, there are other things that can be categorized as wrongdoing. Employees may be made aware of maladministration of funds that fall short of criminal behaviour, just fundamentally silly activities.

We hope to learn a great deal after this bill is in place, but as I said, our first challenge and the issue I am seized with now that I am confident this bill will pass, and where I am directing my attention is on how we can get the message out there to assure the broad spectrum of public servants that they are safe now, that they can come forward with the confidence that they will not suffer reprisals just for doing the right thing. That is what it boils down to, doing the right thing.

With any kind of luck, this new officer of Parliament that we are putting in place by virtue of this bill will be like the Maytag repairman and maybe will not get a lot of business. That would be everyone's first hope.

Let us put this in perspective. This whistleblowing legislation should be only one element in a series of bills in a suite of legislation that will augment and enhance the accountability, transparency and openness, and the freedom of information that are the characteristics and earmarks of a western democracy that we can be proud of.

If we had true open government, if we had better access to information and freedom of information laws, there would not be the corruption that whistleblowers would have to report because the government would be operating in the light of day. It is the culture of secrecy that allows corruption to flourish. That much we have learned, and we have learned it the hard way in my years in the House of Commons.

In the context of the current culture of secrecy for which the government is famous, we need whistleblowing legislation. There are activities going on in the shadows without the scrutiny and oversight of Parliament, much less the general public. We would not have unearthed any of the recent corruption scandals were it not for the courage of whistleblowers who came forward at great personal risk and without any personal benefit. I do not know of a single whistleblower case, and I have studied many, where the whistleblower was motivated by self-interest. That is just not the motivation. The motivation is values, morals, ethics and knowing the difference between right and wrong.

I want as an employee the type of person who cannot sleep at night if he or she knows of a wrongdoing in his or her working environment. That tells me we have a decent person. Someone who is decent enough to feel bad about wrongdoing is the kind of employee that we want, that we want to reward, and ultimately that we want to protect.

Here we are in this chamber all of us speaking in lofty language about values, integrity and ethics, but we have been derelict in our duties to not protect those very values within the public service and not to reward those values. If anything we have cut those people adrift and have not given them the support they have needed in recent history. Until the advent of this bill they were on their own.

I have cited this example before. My colleague from Mississauga South, the vice-chair of the government operations committee that developed the bill, will remember it well. During the Radwanski scandal, we would never have known about the wretched excess and the abuse of privilege that was George Radwanski without whistleblowers. The most significant thing and the thing that still bothers me to this day is that those whistleblowers who had clear abundant evidence of wrongdoing within Radwanski's office did not feel comfortable in coming forward to a standing committee of the House of Commons without their lawyers present.

It was at midnight in the East Block behind closed doors at an in camera meeting and they still did not feel comfortable about talking to us. They insisted on bringing their legal counsel with them to defend them. As soon as they left that room they were vulnerable people. That is atrocious. Honest people who were doing the right thing felt they needed legal counsel to be able to report gross misuse of funds.

That illustrated to me more than ever the urgent need for whistleblower protection but as I say, as an interim measure. I am optimistic that within a short period of time the pent up demand may abate. There may be a number of wrongdoings of which people have knowledge. The floodgates may open briefly for the first year or two years, but in the fullness of time as we develop other complementary legislation about access to information, freedom of information and transparency, there should not be a great deal of need for the whistleblower officer. I hope his or her phone does not ring off the hook because we will have a self-correcting regime. Sunlight is a great disinfectant and when we shine the light of day on an issue, it is the natural enemy of the culture of secrecy that allows corruption to flourish. That is the next logical step for those of us who are interested in this issue.

It is not hard to see where the justifiable apprehension about coming forward came from within the public service. I came across a research paper in October 2004 which talked about the United States. Prior to it passing similar legislation, a survey was done of 161 workers who were disclosed wrongdoings. Of those 161 workers, 62% lost their jobs, 18% said they were harassed or transferred against their will, including being subject to isolation tactics and character assassination, 13% had their salaries and the terms and conditions of their employment reduced and many experienced a mental breakdown or family break up. Those people sacrificed an enormous amount to report wrongdoings. Granted, this is an American study, but it is a recent study. I think it is a snapshot of the experience in Canada.

We heard heart-rending testimony from a number of prominent whistleblowers who came before our committee. They could not even hide from the spotlight on this issue.

Ironically, the very week that the latest incarnation of the whistleblower bill was introduced, the three most prominent whistleblowers in Canada were fired, three officials at Health Canada who blew the whistle on the bovine growth hormone. They were under pressure by industry and by Health Canada to approve the agricultural nutritional supplement for milk in cows. However, because they were not satisfied it was safe, they blew the whistle on it.

These individuals went through five years of misery. They went through all the things outlined here today. They were transferred to different offices farther from their homes. They were transferred to places where there were no computers. Imagine a scientist being asked to work without a computer. The department could never seem to get them hooked up. They were denied meaningful work and given only insignificant work. All of a sudden holidays were not available when for years they took their holidays at a certain period of time. This was punishment by subtle harassment. It does not have to be as overt as firing somebody.

Before I run out of time, I caution the government about another thing. In the earlier incarnations of Bill C-11 we were very critical of the government's language which spent more time and attention contemplating punishing those who would make a false report or a complaint that was not in good faith, a malicious or vexatious report. There was very clear, specific, harsh, swift discipline for those who would do that, but there was no corresponding language to punish a manager who might impose punishment upon a whistleblower. It seemed completely out of balance. The government clearly stated that it would not tolerate false or malicious complaints.

Some people say that whistleblowing could be used as a form of industrial sabotage. For example, if people hated their bosses, they could blow the whistle on them in false ways. That was dealt with in Bill C-11, but there was no corresponding discipline contemplated if management was just mad that somebody blew the whistle on it and disciplined the employee. The only recourse for employees would be to file a grievance with their union, wait in line at the Canada Industrial Relations Board to have their grievance heard, and two years later they may or may not achieve satisfaction. That is not good enough.

We now have it clearly stated that punishing a whistleblower is in and of itself a wrongdoing and an individual may be disciplined or fired for doing that if it can be demonstrated. We are comforted in some way that balance has been reintroduced into the bill. However, I caution the government in the application of this bill once it becomes law. Far greater attention and resources should be dedicated to ensuring that managers do not discipline employees wrongly rather than employees wrongly reporting mischievous grievances.

Those are some of the cautionary notes I point out to the government.

We should use these final moments of this debate at third reading to reflect on two things.

It takes enormous courage for a worker to come forward with evidence of wrongdoing. Inversely, it takes a lot of courage for a government to introduce meaningful whistleblowing legislation. I think that is why governments, and not just this one, around the country and the world are reluctant to allow true whistleblowing legislation to come into force. In fact, when we pass this bill, we will be the eighth developed nation, of which I know, that will have meaningful whistleblowing legislation. That is not very many. It is an act of courage on both parts. It is an act of courage on the part of the whistleblower and on the part of the government.

The fact that we are debating this much improved Bill C-11 today is evidence of a minority government situation working as it should. This is a graphic illustration of the advantage to ordinary Canadians of minority parliaments. We saw the type of whistleblowing legislation introduced by the majority Liberal government. Every witness who came before our committee rejected it out of hand. I believe there were 14 leading authorities, from university professors, to union leaders, to people who studied this issue from one end to the other. They rejected it unanimously. That is the kind of bill we get from a majority government. As soon as it was a minority situation, things started to open. Log jams were broken. All of a sudden things that we were told were impossible were in fact possible, and we have a better bill as a result.

I believe it is a case study for the advantage of minority governments, especially as it pertains to issues that affect the general population. Minority governments are good for ordinary Canadians. That is my point and I stick to that.

It was worth the time it took to get the bill right the first time. As opposition party members, we could have said that we were getting half a loaf with Bill C-25, that at least it was a bill about whistleblowing and that was better than nothing. We could have voted for it and had it introduced by now. However, we did not. We stuck to our guns and said that it was not good enough, and I am glad we did.

Nobody could have used a crystal ball to foresee this, but that party lost its majority status as a government. All of a sudden we had some influence. All of a sudden there was consultation and cooperation. All of a sudden my phone would ring and a minister would ask me what it would take for me to support this kind of thing. That did not happen in the majority situation. Believe me, nobody cared what we thought about then, no matter how relevant and valid our contributions could have been.

It is interesting to go back and think about the money we could have saved and the quality of administration we could have enjoyed had we had whistleblowing legislation quite some time ago. Maybe we would not have had to endure the terrible sponsorship scandal that is ripping the country apart.

My Saskatchewan colleague from the Conservative Party said that the sponsorship scandal was the biggest scandal in Canadian history. I disagree with him somewhat. When the dust settles, it may earn that position in the history books. However, to this point in time, the biggest scandal on record, dealing with the malfeasance of politicians, is the Conservative Party government of Grant Devine. Most of its cabinet ministers were not only charged but convicted and sent to prison in massive numbers.

Until such time as the last Liberal is led away in handcuffs, the Devine government in Saskatchewan is holding the record for malfeasance, and I presume that scandal was revealed by a courageous whistleblower.

We are proud to support Bill C-11. We are proud of the role we played in it. I take great satisfaction and some pride in the fact that we will have a bill under which public servants will be protected and feel comfortable in telling us what they know. We will ensure that no one harasses them or persecutes them for doing the honourable thing.

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12:30 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Conservative Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I highly appreciate the efforts and the comments by the member for Winnipeg Centre. Quite some time ago he had a private member's bill to protect whistleblowers. I improved upon that bill and introduced a bill in the early part of my political life. That bill did not get to see the light of day in the House of Commons. I reintroduced it in the House and it was debated.

It was surprising that the Liberals did not support either of these bills or the efforts of other opposition MPs to introduce protection for whistleblowers. I would conclude that the Liberal Party did not have the political will to introduce any meaningful, effective whistleblower legislation. Only when the government was ridden by scandal after scandal and only when the corruption became very evident to all Canadians, were the Liberals forced to bring in whistleblower legislation, and they came up with a half-hearted approach. That was after 12 years in government.

I compliment all opposition parties that have worked significantly hard and effectively in committee to improve upon Bill C-11. Finally we have legislation that is better than before, although not perfect yet.

Does the member for Winnipeg Centre believe that the Liberal Party did not have the political will right from the beginning and that it was the efforts of private members in the House to force the government to come up with meaningful whistleblower legislation?

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12:30 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would concur that it was the efforts of opposition party members who forced the issue until it reached such a critical mass that the government could not ignore it. I recognize my colleague from Newton—North Delta was very aggressive in his pursuit of whistleblowing legislation.

I read the bills he introduced on this subject. They are very similar to mine and the one introduced by the Bloc Québécois in 1996 in the 35th Parliament. It had it right from the beginning. The whistleblower officer should be an independent officer of Parliament. In the incarnation from 1996, it suggested the Auditor General. My private member's bill also said that we should use the office of the Auditor General, only because we knew the Auditor General had the confidence and respect of the public servants and that her office was an independent office that reported only to Parliament and not to a minister of the Crown or to government.

Therefore, the opposition parties knew what they wanted nine or ten years ago. It was echoed and reinforced by significant efforts made by my colleague, myself and others who put forward private members' business.

Again, it is an example of the advantage of minority Parliament when we are advancing some of these soft issues, non-monetary issues, issues that advance and elevate the status of the working conditions of public servants. I think it is going to be a different world. As soon as we pass Bill C-11, the culture and the morale in our public service will elevate.

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12:35 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier the member asked a question in debate which dealt with the implementation plan to achieve the objectives of the bill and I have had a chance to reflect on that. One of the responses that I had given to him at the time was to make absolutely sure that the recruitment and selection of this public sector integrity commissioner be as thorough as possible to find an excellent candidate for that position, because it is the starting point.

Could he suggest to the House some other ways in which we might have a plan and an implementation approach that will give us the best chance to earn the confidence and support of our valued public service? I would even suggest to him that perhaps the committee has a responsibility. When the committee meets tomorrow, it should talk about our role in shepherding this through the Senate. As well, it might be engaged in the recruitment process as far as discussions and indeed to ensure that some of the steps that have to be taken for the information needs of the public service, as now defined in the bill, are being developed, and perhaps we should review them prior to some of that going out. Does the member have some thoughts on how we can ensure that the implementation approach is also going to get it right?

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12:35 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Mississauga South for listening to the point I was making, that the implementation of the bill is going to be the critical point. The devil is going to be in the details.

We can pass this laudable legislation, but if no one believes that they are safer, we are no better off. The individual that we choose is going to be paramount. We need to choose a real champion of workers' rights in a sense because that will be the primary function. It will be to supervise the administration and the application of the process but with the key and paramount duty to protect the whistleblower.

I will openly state that I think the best person for the job would be the member for Mississauga South. He himself should think twice about running again in the next federal election. Perhaps he should accept the appointment if we invite him to be that new first whistleblower officer.

In terms of methodology, an information campaign has to be undertaken throughout the public service and it is a massive job. The dissemination of information to 180,000 people is abundantly clear and it has to go right to the lowest level, the casual labourers. All of them need to understand their rights as they pertain to this new whistleblower regime.

Just as we did with the WHMIS legislation, workers have the right to know and the right to refuse unsafe work. The workplace hazardous information materials system was a massive undertaking and a five year project to inform all workers that they have rights under WHMIS. We need to inform all workers what their rights are under this new whistleblower regime and then the benefits will begin to be evident.