House of Commons Hansard #123 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was wrongdoing.


Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, June 23, the division stands deferred until Thursday, November 3, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.

The hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader is rising on a point of order.

Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent to see the clock at the appropriate time to start Private Members' Business.

Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

Is it agreed?

Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

Accordingly, the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Jean-Denis Garon Bloc Mirabel, QC

moved that Bill C‑290, An Act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for being here today.

There is nothing more important for a government than an ethical, competent and responsible public service, and we must value the work of our public servants. Public servants are in the best position to note irregularities in government, in its management of public monies and use of Crown assets, as people here like to call them. Sometimes, out of a sense of responsibility, these officials become whistle-blowers by disclosing wrongdoing. It is an extremely important role. For that reason, we must protect them. We also need to create and enhance mechanisms that these officials can use to disclose wrongdoing.

Currently we have the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. This legislation came about as a result of the sponsorship scandal. We all know that the federal sponsorship program was highly problematic from 1997 to 2001 and caused a major scandal. It was created in the aftermath of the 1995 referendum, when the federal government wanted to have more visibility in Quebec and decided to hang Canadian flags in just about every cultural and social space in Quebec.

Unfortunately, in addition to being fundamentally bad, this program ended up being used as a quid pro quo mechanism. Communications firms with close ties to the Liberal Party would receive huge contracts, and the money would directly or indirectly wind up back in the Liberal Party of Canada's coffers. This undermined taxpayers' confidence in the government and public confidence in government operations.

The whole thing got out of control and naturally undermined the very democratic process that ensures that we are elected to the House and that people trust the process. We are not talking about a scandal involving small sums of money; we are talking about the proven waste of a quarter of a billion dollars of public funds, which led to the Gomery commission.

As members will recall, this resulted in Paul Martin's government being severely punished. It was re-elected with a minority government in 2004. Ultimately, Canadians and Quebeckers decided to toss out the Liberals when they voted in many Bloc Québécois members and gave the Harper government a minority mandate. That government took swift action to protect whistle-blowers in the public service.

Members will recall that one of the reasons the public learned as much as it did about the extent of the sponsorship scandal was because of a whistle-blower nicknamed “MaChouette”. She spoke regularly with journalist Daniel Leblanc, who had to battle in court to protect her identity.

One of the Harper government's first pieces of legislation was the Federal Accountability Act, followed by the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, which came into force on April 15, 2007.

Obviously, the world has changed a lot since then, but this law has not changed and has not been improved, amended or corrected in 15 years. Now the time has come to do the right thing for our competent public servants and protect whistle-blowers.

The objective of Bill C‑290 is to protect public servants who disclose wrongdoing in the public service, and also to establish a process to investigate the wrongdoing. That is very important because we want wrongdoings to be disclosed and we want to put an end to them. We want to have processes to help us do that. The ultimate goal is better management of government resources.

The current act covers many things. It was an ambitious law at the time, and it had good intentions. It described wrongdoing as a contravention of any act of Parliament or of the legislature of a province, or of any regulations, by persons in authority; a misuse of public funds or a public asset; mismanagement in the public sector; an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons, or to the environment, other than a danger that is inherent in the performance of the regular duties of a public servant, of course, because we want them to be able to do their job.

The act covers serious breaches of a code of conduct stemming from the events I just mentioned and, of course, wilfully and knowingly directing or counselling a person to commit any of the wrongdoings I just listed.

It is still a fairly ambitious law with built-in mechanisms. The act created a mechanism for the disclosure process. We want there to be a mechanism. We do not necessarily want whistle-blowers calling journalists in secret and passing confidential documents to them. We want there to be a process, a process that is supposed to protect anonymity and, more importantly, protect public servants from reprisals. The act created an independent institution, the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, which can receive disclosures and investigate allegations and possible reprisals. Lastly, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal was created.

If the act is so great, why did we introduce Bill C‑290?

Again, the principles of the act that has been in effect since 2007 are excellent, but the act has many flaws. They are small flaws, but when you add them all up, they make this legislation ineffective. We have seen it. Since this legislation was implemented, we can count the number of cases where disclosures have gone through the correct process. We can basically count them on two hands.

That is consistent with the findings of the International Bar Association, which ranks Canada at the bottom of the list when it comes to laws that protect public servants who disclose wrongdoing. Canada has one of the worst records in the world in this regard. I will spare my colleagues from having to listen to a list of the countries that rank above us because it is both embarrassing and shameful. When the International Bar Association assessed the Canadian legislation, Canada got a zero on 19 of the 20 assessment criteria. Do members know what criterion Canada did not get a zero on? Just having an act. That is the only criterion on which we did not get a zero. We are not starting from scratch, but we have a long way to go.

Other jurisdictions have led the way on this. The European Union, Australia and the United States have good systems, and we can follow in their footsteps. The point is, things have to change for the better. Taxpayers deserve better.

We do not have to start from scratch either. There was a committee study in 2017. I acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues who worked very hard on that report. They met 12 times, heard from 52 witnesses, received 12 briefs from experts, whistle-blowers and unions, people who know about this stuff, people on the ground. Challenges and shortcomings were identified, and 15 recommendations were issued.

I know that one of the people who made a significant contribution to drafting the recommendations passed away recently. That person was Michael Dagg, and I, along with a number of my colleagues, want to pay tribute to him.

What did we learn from the committee? The committee showed us that there is not enough protection for whistle-blowers in the public service and that public servants lack confidence in the process because of the way it works. They know that mechanisms exist, but since they do not have confidence in where the process will lead and they are afraid that it will end up being very harmful to them, what we end up with is an act that is not used and public servants who do not disclose wrongdoing.

Bill C‑290 addresses these shortcomings and, as I said, essentially seeks to correct the problems with the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

What does this bill do? First, it broadens the definition of wrongdoing. The act covers serious cases of wrongdoing and illegal acts, but it does not cover cases of political interference in administrative decisions, even though it should. If a public servant discloses an incident of political interference, their complaint will simply be rejected. It cannot be processed or even considered by the public servants in the department who deal with complaints or by the commissioner.

However, we need to be able to get to the bottom of things. Under the current legislation, it is impossible to do that when wrongdoing is disclosed. This bill will help to remedy that.

In the current situation, turning to the people in charge of receiving complaints can be extremely formal, difficult and intimidating for a public servant. What is more, the commissioner who deals with these matters has a limited budget. He barely has the necessary resources, expertise, or knowledge of the departments. As a result, often the investigations go nowhere. It is possible to refer the case to the police, but, again, there needs to be an investigation first and that generally does not happen.

Bill C‑290 proposes to allow the auditor general to investigate such cases. Remember that at the time of the sponsorship scandal, it was the auditor general, Sheila Fraser, who helped expose the wrongdoing.

In addition, we want to protect more people. The act currently protects public servants, but it does not protect former public servants who may have witnessed wrongdoing over the years but did not decide to disclose it until later. Furthermore, the act does not protect contract or temporary employees, such as someone who works at CRA for a few months during tax season. These are the people who are most vulnerable in these circumstances, because their employment status is precarious. They can easily become victims of intimidation or reprisals.

At the same time, we need to rebuild trust with the public service. Under the current act, a complaint can be dismissed, even if the wrongdoing is well established, because the commissioner may find that the person reporting the wrongdoing had personal reasons for doing so.

We understand the seriousness of that. Often someone who denounces a wrongdoing did not witness it only once or twice. It was not a quick 15-minute incident on a Tuesday morning. It happens repeatedly for days, for years. It makes the workplace extremely challenging. It is normal for a whistle-blower to become bitter, frustrated and angry, and that can negatively impact the workplace. It is unfair that an assumption about the reasons for a public servant's deep emotions can result in the facts being set aside.

This bill will have a positive impact. As members know, I am a relatively new parliamentarian. I decided to introduce Bill C‑290 as my first private member's bill because I think it is important to introduce non-partisan legislation that is in the public interest. Every single person in this House, no matter their party, their ideology or which side of the constitutional divide they are on, wants public funds to be well managed. We all want Crown assets, federal government assets, to be used properly. We all want taxpayers who submit their income tax returns in April or May to have confidence in the machinery of government.

The main reason I introduced this bill is out of respect for the thousands of professionals who dedicate their lives and their careers to public service, people who devote their time and energy to public service, who truly care about the work they do. If we do not update the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, we are essentially preventing those people from doing their jobs to the best of their ability in extremely important situations. I think our public servants deserve Bill C‑290.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Sherbrooke Québec


Élisabeth Brière LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech. He has demonstrated why it is important to examine this issue.

We will soon begin a comprehensive review of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act with the support of experts. We want to ensure that the act effectively protects public servants. We also want to strengthen Canadians' confidence in the integrity of our public institutions.

Does my colleague not think that more work is needed, given the seriousness and scope of this legislation?

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Jean-Denis Garon Bloc Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I can assure the House that I am acting in good faith, and I presume the members opposite are doing the same. That is why I hope they will support the bill.

Having said that, I hope it is not a coincidence that when Bill C‑290 was introduced, the government suddenly decided to review that legislation.

The committee that worked on this issue heard from witnesses, made recommendations, heard from experts and worked very hard. It released a terrific, comprehensive report. This bill was drafted, in part, based on that incredible work, which is why I think the government has a vested interest in supporting Bill C‑290 and not rejecting the immense amount of hard work done by the committee.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for the excellent private member's bill. I also want to thank him for paying tribute to Mr. Michael Dagg, a hero to whistle-blowers in Canada, who, along with Allan Cutler and several others, helped our committee write the gold bar for whistle-blower protection, one that the government has ignored for five years.

What does my colleague think about the government sitting on this report and doing nothing about it for five years, and then proposing to spend millions of dollars over the next three or four more years to study it, rather than bringing in protection for our public servants immediately?

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Jean-Denis Garon Bloc Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, since I was not here over the past few years, I will not pass judgment.

That being said, private members' bills are useful. Through these bills, MPs are sometimes able to focus on important legislative aspects with the help of people around them. The government has its hands full, what with the pandemic, inflation and the upcoming recession. That is why I am introducing this bill with a view to serving the public.

I do not want to speculate on why the government did not have the time to make progress, but today, with Bill C‑290, the government has the opportunity to address this issue. If it refuses to support Bill C‑290, I will have good reason to question its intentions. For now, I can only assume and hope that the government will collaborate.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, I thank the member for Mirabel for introducing this important bill. I think it is very important, especially at a time when we need to regain trust in our institutions. It is a very important instrument that can help build toward that.

I want to ask about the systemic racism that many indigenous peoples, Black people and people in the BIPOC community experience from public servants. Can he see a way for the public servants who are perpetuating systemic racism to be addressed through this bill?

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Jean-Denis Garon Bloc Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to be evasive, but I am not going to go into detail in answering my colleague's question because it is a matter that I know very little about. Furthermore, it is a matter that is somewhat peripheral to the bill.

My colleague told us that, to some extent, there is a lack of confidence in our institutions. We have seen that in recent months and throughout the pandemic. It is important that taxpayers have confidence that their taxes are well managed.

It is important that taxpayers see the government not as an open bar, but as a serious institution that has serious processes for implementing serious programs for its population. I believe that Bill C‑290 can make a modest but important contribution to that.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Hull—Aylmer Québec


Greg Fergus LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise to speak to Bill C‑290, an act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

First, I would like to thank my colleague from Mirabel for introducing Bill C‑290, which is very well written. This is very useful and important work. I think everyone will agree that public servants who disclose serious wrongdoing must be protected.

The question is not if we can strengthen those provisions, but how. Bill C-290 offers some potential steps forward, but it also poses some important legal and operational challenges.

Today I am going to speak about what has been done to better protect whistle-blowers, the upcoming comprehensive review of the act and what needs to be fixed in Bill C-290 to help it create the positive change I know my hon. colleague certainly intends.

The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act promotes a work culture based on ethics and the integrity of the federal public service. Canada's whistle-blowing legislation is one of the various recourse mechanisms available to public servants when it comes to harassment, discrimination, labour grievances and privacy complaints.

The government has made meaningful improvements to the system. We have implemented greater guidance for the internal disclosure process.

We have increased the number of awareness activities and training sessions for public servants, supervisors and managers. We have also improved reporting on the internal disclosure process and founded wrongdoing.

The government has also established a central website as part of the government portal. It will allow Canadians to access information about founded wrongdoing within federal institutions. In his mandate letter to the President of the Treasury Board, the Prime Minister directed her to build on the progress that has been made and to “continue to take action to improve government whistleblower protections and supports”. In keeping with this mandate, we will soon be conducting a comprehensive review of the act, which will include recommendations for possible amendments.

The review will be conducted by a working group of academics, experts and union officials. Their work will take into account international research and the Canadian experience, the report from the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates on the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, as well as the debate and testimony on Bill C‑290.

Our intent is to ensure that the law effectively protects and empowers public servants to shine a light on wrongdoing and to help strengthen Canadians' confidence in the integrity of our public institutions. This is what makes the bill before us so important.

As it currently stands, Bill C‑290 contains some positive measures. It would extend protection to cover more public servants involved in reporting wrongdoing. It would extend the period during which a reprisal complaint may be filed from 60 days to one year. It would increase the applications respecting offences under various sections of the act. It would enable the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to disclose additional information in specific circumstances. It would also require a review of the act every five years. These are valuable and important proposals.

The hon. member who introduced this bill is to be commended for the work he did in preparing this bill.

That said, Bill C‑290 also raises issues that have to be looked at in committee to make sure there will not be negative legal and operational repercussions. It is important to note that the purpose of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is to address serious ethical breaches that cannot be dealt with using ordinary recourse mechanisms. It is not designed to deal with all ethical breaches or to replace existing recourse mechanisms meant for issues such as harassment, discrimination, workplace grievances and privacy complaints.

These other recourse mechanisms include those set out in the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act, the Canada Labour Code, the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, the Work Place Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Privacy Act and the code of conduct for procurement.

I would also like to point out that the provisions of Bill C‑290 will result in a significant amount of overlap and duplication when it comes to these processes. Consider, for example, the bill's proposal to remove the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner's power to refuse to deal with a complaint regarding reprisals that may be or have been dealt with under another act of Parliament. This change could lead to the use of multiple processes for the same issues by various administrative bodies with different mandates and objectives.

Such overlap and duplication could result in wasted resources. It could lead to inconsistent determinations, differing remedies and duplicating settlements. I doubt that the hon. member had these consequences in mind.

Another example is the proposal in Bill C-290 to include abuse of authority in the definition of wrongdoing. This could lead to overlap with staffing complaints on the same allegations under the Public Service Employment Act. Once again, this could result in the potential for parallel proceedings and multiple decisions on the same matters that could contradict each other.

We need to avoid introducing unnecessary duplication and confusion into the current system. We must be careful not to undermine the value of grievances, which are an important tool for unions in the public sector.

Other provisions will change the degree of severity of wrongdoing covered under the act, opening up the process to the most trivial of misdemeanours, which will clog the system and reduce its effectiveness. Bill C-290 also requires executives to provide support to a public servant involved in a disclosure, which conflicts with the principle of confidentiality.

By including contractors in the provisions, Bill C‑290 could not only result in problematic employment relationships, but it could also encroach on provincial jurisdiction. I have no doubt that that was in no way the Bloc Québécois member's intention.

This bill also removes the discretion of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal to decide whether to add the person alleged to have taken a reprisal as a party. This could in fact expose whistle-blowers in cases where the person alleged to have taken a reprisal does not know who the complainant is.

My colleague has introduced a very important bill. Parliament needs to consider whether the operational concerns I have outlined today can be addressed in committee or whether it would be better to wait until the review leads to more complex reforms.

In closing, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Mirabel for his work on Bill C‑290, and I look forward to the next steps in the legislative process.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Stephanie Kusie Conservative Calgary Midnapore, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Mirabel for introducing this bill.

This legislation is very dear to my heart. For close to 15 years I was a public servant at Global Affairs Canada, so I certainly know the importance of this legislation today.

The legislation, as outlined, would amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act to strengthen current whistle-blower protections for public servants. It would expand the definition of the term “wrongdoing”, and it would broaden what is considered a supervisor so that public servants can make a protected disclosure to any superior within the organization. This is very interesting because it means a deputy director can go not only to their direct director but also to the director general, the ADM or perhaps even the deputy minister, so that is a very important piece.

The legislation would extend protection to former public servants, government contractors and all those involved in disclosure. It is very important to me as a former public servant that, if I were called into an investigation, I would have protection under this legislation. It would expand the deadline to file a reprisal complaint from 60 days to one year. That is also very important. As we know, vindication is not always swift. Sometimes these actions can take time, so the fact that there is sixfold greater time frame for this is of much comfort to many public servants.

It would expand the annual report requirements to include the number of disclosures made of wrongdoing, the duration of all open cases and cases closed during the fiscal year, the distribution of cases by region and the distribution of cases by federal departments and agencies. On this side of the House, we love transparency, so the more transparency that is provided to Canadians by those who have called their colleagues to account, the better.

This legislation would also provide fines for reprisal against a whistle-blower, which would increase from $10,000 to $200,000 for indictable offences and from $5,000 to $100,000 for summary convictions. Again, on this side of the House, we are always very pleased to see those who have been determined to have been negligent and committed wrongdoing get more than a slap on the wrist, as we saw, for example, when the former finance minister paid only $200 for not declaring his French villa. We are very pleased to see the increases in these fines.

As I am sure members are well aware, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act was first introduced through the Federal Accountability Act on April 11, 2006, by then president of the Treasury Board John Baird. As my colleagues have alluded to, the initial Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act was introduced under Prime Minister Harper in response to the Liberal sponsorship scandal. Certainly the scandals continued into the future under additional Liberal governments, but that scandal was taking place at that time and this legislation was a response.

I will also note that the member of Parliament for Edmonton West was instrumental in the review, in 2017, by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. He was absolutely instrumental in that review, along with the late Michael Dagg, unfortunately, as well as Erin Weir. We are very grateful for their assessment of the legislation at that time.

As has been mentioned, it was expected that the government would implement these recommendations, but no action has been taken to this point and it does not seem to be a priority of the government. Therefore, I do not blame the member of Parliament for Mirabel for being proactive in presenting this legislation. Unfortunately, it is not the only case where the government has been too slow to act on important legislation. As shadow minister for transport during the pandemic, I begged the government to come up with a plan for the airline sector. It was negligent in doing that, allowing the airlines to recover themselves.

In fact, this past spring and summer when we saw that delays were severely impacting Canadians, the Liberals did not even take responsibility for it at that time. Rather, their Minister of Transport blamed Canadians for still learning how to travel when it was, in fact, the government's inaction with the plan as well as its mandates that created this situation, so too little too late.

Tomorrow we will have the fall economic statement. Lo and behold, recently, we have heard the finance minister say that for every dollar of new spending, they must now find a dollar of savings. Our leader was well ahead of this. He started to talk about inflation two years ago. He came out with a “pay as you go” model long before this. He has, in fact, made it a commitment for Conservatives going into the next election, whenever that is, that under a Conservative government there will be no new taxes and that for every dollar of new spending there must be a dollar of savings.

Unfortunately, another place where we saw the Liberals act too little too late was with the Afghan interpreters and support staff. On July 23, 2021, the Taliban were sweeping across Afghanistan and closing in on Kabul. The minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship at the time announced a special immigration program to bring Afghans and their families who worked directly with Canada safely to our country. At the time he said, “Lives hang in the balance, which is why we’re taking timely and decisive action to support the Afghans who supported Canada”. A year later, those Afghans were still desperate for that timely and decisive action that was promised. Not only did the minister of immigration fail to act quickly, but he was ending the special immigration measures after only 18,000 applications were received.

Passports was another area where we saw the government act with too little effort and too late as thousands of Canadians were denied passports. We heard horror stories in the media of Canadians camping out overnight, sleeping outside passport offices in an effort to get their documents.

Last but not least, the position of ombudsman for victims of crime was left vacant for almost a year. Finally, someone was appointed in September of this year. It is not new that we have seen Liberals replete with inaction and other members of the House must find it within themselves to find legislation to help Canadians. That certainly is the case here.

I will point out that, as indicated by the history of protecting whistle-blowers on this side of the House, the Liberal government has actually been the greatest perpetrator against whistle-blowers. We all remember Jody Wilson-Raybould in August 2019. The report came yesterday and for the second time in just four years, the Ethics Commissioner found the Prime Minister guilty of violating the Conflict of Interest Act in connection with his role in the SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal. I quote:

The Prime Minister, directly and through his senior officials, used various means to exert influence over Ms. Wilson‑Raybould. The authority of the Prime Minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson‑Raybould as the Crown's chief law officer.

It sounds really familiar with respect to a couple of things we are seeing in the House right now.

Of course, who can forget the tragedy of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman? The Crown stayed its charge of breach of trust against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman citing that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction in this case. The minister of defence announced that the government would pay his legal fees. That is a small consolation prize. Norman served as the vice-chief of the defence staff until his suspension in January 2017.

There was overwhelming evidence at the time that the Prime Minister and his Liberal government politically interfered in this case and tried to destroy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman. As the prosecution made clear, the documents that the Prime Minister and the Liberals were fighting to keep secret from them and Vice-Admiral Norman were the very documents that caused the charges to be dropped. This strongly suggests that the government was deliberately suppressing the evidence in order to maintain a bogus and politically motivated prosecution on Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

In conclusion, I will say that the government has a notorious history, as I have indicated, of just doing too little too late. This is another case where the government has silenced whistle-blowers. On this side of the House, we have always stood up for whistle-blowers. The legislation proves it. Our track record proves it.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, as pleased as I am to join the debate this evening to speak on Bill C-290, an act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, I am sad I have to be doing it from my home.

I have had to come back to the unceded land of Tseshaht and Hupacasath and the homelands of the Nuu-chah-nulth people to attend the funeral of the Tla-o-qui-aht Chief Muuchinink, also know as Bruce Frank, who suddenly passed away on Sunday. I will be travelling through his Ha-Hoothlee, his territory, tonight to join his family and his community. I will bring greetings from all of us from Ottawa, and condolences to his people. It is a very sad time for the people in our communities and for all Nuu-chah-nulth people. He was a great man who loved his people.

I want to thank the hon. member for Mirabel for bringing forward this bill and prompting this important discussion. It is very important, and I really appreciate his work in doing this.

When the new Conservative leader, the member for Carleton, was a minister under the Harper government, he brought forth legislation that he repeatedly said would offer “ironclad protection” for whistle-blowers in the federal public service. Instead, after 15 years in force, it is clear this law is a complete failure.

I am going to talk about David Hutton, a whistle-blower protection expert and senior fellow at the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University. He recently wrote in The Hill Times:

After studying this system closely for the past 15 years, I have come to believe that it was never intended to protect whistleblowers. It does not look like a regrettable accident resulting in an ineffective system. In reality, it functions as a highly effective, finely tuned offensive weapon against whistleblowers. It lures them into a trap, where their disclosures of wrongdoing are disregarded and buried forever, the promises of protection made to them prove to be false, and their efforts to obtain justice place them on a treadmill of endless, costly and ultimately fruitless rigged processes.

Indeed, after 15 years, the results of Canada’s whistle-blower regime speaks for itself. The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner has found a mere 18 cases of wrongdoing out of more than 1,500 disclosures from whistle-blowers. While 500 whistle-blowers have submitted complaints of reprisals, the tribunal set up to address these complaints has never once awarded a remedy.

In another article, David Hutton wrote, “there have been no happy endings for whistleblowers, who nearly always lose their job, their career, and their livelihood.”

The failure of this law does not just cost whistle-blowers. It costs all of us when wrongdoings and mismanagement are allowed to continue unchecked. We see this all the time in procurement, and the failure for whistle-blowers to be able to come forward. I will cite one, which is the disastrous Phoenix pay system. It was supposed to save money, but it has resulted in at least $2.4 billion in unexpected costs so far. It is an example of what can happen when there is a culture of fear in the public service.

This started under the Conservatives, and it has carried on under the federal Liberals. It is unacceptable. That culture of fear is reflected in the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner’s own findings. In March 2022, the Office published a report it commissioned entitled “Exploring the Culture of Whistleblowing and the Fear of Reprisal in the Federal Public Sector”. The report was based on focus groups drawn from a selection of departments, and it echoed the findings of similar surveys conducted in 2011 and 2015. This latest report found that fear of reprisals remains a major concern in the federal public service.

It also contained some other concerning findings: first, that most workers and managers surveyed did not know of the office’s existence; second, there is increasing disillusionment and cynicism about whistle-blowing; and, third, increased activity around whistle-blowing, such as awareness raising and education, is seen mainly as window dressing instead of actual change. We could make a long list here.

It is disappointing to read these findings in 2022. The need for change in how we deal with whistle-blowers has been well known for years. There are serious deficiencies in the existing act, including a narrow definition of wrongdoing and a focus on procedures for dealing with allegations rather than protecting whistle-blowers.

In 2017, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates tabled a unanimous report recommending sweeping changes to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. This report was prepared at the request of the Treasury Board to fulfill the requirement for statutory review that should have been conducted five years earlier. It sounds familiar. It has been five years since, and the government has not implemented the legislative changes the committee recommended, and we heard the member for Mirabel talk about it earlier. Instead, in the most recent federal budget, the government committed $2.4 million over five years for the Treasury Board Secretariat to launch a new review of the act.

It is a positive development to see the federal government finally acknowledge the need for legislative reform, but I am concerned whether there is genuine political will to move forward and make real changes or if this is simply a face-saving exercise. As the member for Mirabel talked about, the government did not even start this until Friday, just as this bill came up for debate.

It reminds me of how the government acts suddenly when private members' bills come up, like my bill, Bill C-216, on substance use. The government did nothing on the Province of B.C.'s request for an exemption for people who are caught with a small possession of substances to not be criminally charged. The government announced that B.C.'s exemption would be granted the day before the vote on my bill. It is just all too familiar. I have seen this happen a lot.

To get back to the bill, its latest review was likely prompted by a 2021 analysis by the International Bar Association, which compared countries with whistle-blower protection laws and ranked Canada as tied for last place. This is an international embarrassment. It is about transparency and trust, and it is a clear call for action, yet in September, Canada failed to send any representatives to an International Labour Organization meeting to discuss the protection of whistle-blowers in the public sector. Surely some helpful information could have been gleaned from this meeting to inform the government's new review. It could have gained a lot.

Again, I am glad that the member for Mirabel has brought forward this bill, which acknowledges the failure of the current act and will hopefully help generate momentum for much-needed change. My office has engaged with public sector unions regarding the bill. The general sentiment is that this is a step in the right direction, but further changes will be required to truly protect whistle-blowers and the Canadian public.

The bill does not address all of the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates in 2017. However, it does propose some significant improvements that are worth noting.

The bill would expand protections to more people, including contractors and former employees, and cover more types of wrongdoing, including political interference. I believe the bill has merit and should proceed to committee where members can hear from public service workers and experts and see if there are opportunities for amendments that could offer more protection for whistle-blowers.

I will note that I do not believe the Treasury Board's new review of the act should preclude moving forward with improvements now. It is not clear when this review might be completed, but it is clear that Canada's whistle-blower protection regime is broken and is in desperate need of reform to protect brave public service workers and the Canadian public who disclose wrongdoings.

In 2015, the Liberals promised that transparency would be a hallmark of their government, but that promise has fallen to the wayside, just like the Conservatives. Under the frequent cloud of scandal, I question whether the government is truly motivated to improve protections for whistle-blowers who could shine a light on government wrongdoing or mismanagement of public funds.

In closing, I want to thank the member for Mirabel for bringing the bill forward, and I look forward to engaging in further debate on this issue.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Julie Vignola Bloc Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Madam Speaker, any self-respecting country must have the means to ensure that public funds are used properly, not diverted, not doled out to cronies and not used for any other wrongdoing.

After the sponsorship scandal, Stephen Harper's government enacted legislation to protect public servants who disclose information. We must remember that the sponsorship scandal was only brought to light because of a whistle-blower known as “MaChouette”. People had to go to court to keep this individual's identity secret. Let us keep this in mind, as it is important.

Without that individual, it is very likely that the sponsorship scandal would never have become public knowledge and that these kickbacks and this program might possibly have still been ongoing. Thanks to this individual and the Gomery commission, we learned that the amount siphoned off by the sponsorship program was $250 million. What would that amount be if “MaChouette” had not blown the whistle? It would be an enormous amount of taxpayers' money.

In order to encourage public servants who witness questionable practices in government to report them, an act was passed to protect them. Does it really do so? The answer is no, and it is precisely because the act is flawed that my colleague from Mirabel introduced Bill C-290, an act to amend the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.

I would like to remind members of the objectives of the act, give a short list of reasons why the law is basically ineffective and provide a quick explanation of the corrections that Bill C-290 makes to the legislation in place.

The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act has two objectives: to protect public servants who disclose wrongdoing in the management of the state and to implement a process for investigating such wrongdoing and help put an end to it.

I want to be very clear. Most public servants are basically honest. It only takes one person with questionable practices to tarnish the reputation of all public servants. If such a person exists, they need to be found and reported. The entire state suffers the consequences of a bad reputation.

Public servants are aware of all that. Nevertheless, there are people in our society, as in any other society, who pay little heed to these considerations and who may feel untouchable or undetectable. Fortunately, only a small minority of these people among the hundreds of thousands of our public servants have no qualms about diverting hard-earned taxpayer money for their own benefit or to do what they think is best.

This very hierarchical system—I would even say there is a code of silence—and competition ensured, and probably still ensure, that honest public servants kept quiet, even when they knew that a colleague or a superior was breaching ethical, or even legal, boundaries. They kept quiet, and continue keeping quiet, for fear of reprisal. If they blew the whistle, they would be pressured. Some fear this pressure to the point of getting sick or being forced to resign. These are examples that unfortunately I have heard from former public servants who are now retired, who wanted to improve something and blow the whistle on a particular situation and who experienced the pressure I just mentioned.

The 2007 act was necessary to protect the people who work for the public, but it also needed to be drafted in such a way as to prevent workplaces from becoming an environment where everyone suspected everyone else of wrongdoing. Instead of creating toxic workplaces we needed to create collaborative places where it was clear that if something was wrong, someone would do something about it. However, in wanting to protect the balance, the legislation went too far and became unworkable.

When I was a teacher and we had to implement a rule, one of the first questions I would ask myself was whether it could be enforced. I might have the best intentions in the world, but if I could not enforce the rule or if there were no consequences, the students would not be fooled and would realize it at some point. They would find the loopholes and skirt the rule. It is the same thing in the machinery of government. That is what happened with the existing legislation. The government enacted a law without having the ability to properly enforce it and without making it clear that if there was a problem, there would be consequences. That is what is missing.

I will give an example to support my argument. In 15 years, the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner has officially investigated only eight cases, and none of these led to a whistle-blower being protected or resulted in an investigation of wrongdoing.

Furthermore, the International Bar Association has compiled about 50 whistle-blower laws. It has ranked countries that provide the best protection for whistle-blowers. On a list of 20 criteria to be checked, Canada has only checked off one, the fact that it has a law. That is it. Botswana, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other countries are ranked higher than we are. We should be looking at best practices, such as those used in the European Union, Australia or the United States.

As my colleagues have also mentioned, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates issued a report in 2017, if I am not mistaken, and the recommendations in that report have not been followed. We are still waiting. That is what my colleague's bill will do. It will make that report come to life and, more importantly, it will enable public servants who see wrongdoing to be truly protected.

Bill C-290 is designed to give the act some teeth by proposing a series of remedial measures. I will not go through the whole list. When I look at a bill, I take the original act and the bill, and I note everything that is different, everything that has improved, everything that has been taken out and everything that has been added. It takes hours, so I will not put my colleagues through that. I only have ten minutes. I will try to be brief.

First, the bill broadens the definition of wrongdoing. For example, the original act considered only serious wrongdoing. What does “serious” mean? It is a bit unclear because it can mean different things to different people. For example, to me, theft is theft, even if it is something small. In other words, wrongdoing, whether major or minor, is wrongdoing. It is serious to me, but the act does not specify exactly what the word “serious” means. Now the word “serious” is going to be taken out. If a person witnesses a wrongdoing, it is a wrongdoing and must be dealt with. There is no distinction between minor and major wrongdoings. I do not know if everybody sees it that way, but I hope so.

It also introduces the notion of political interference. Next, it corrects something that does not make sense, because, in the case of a major incident, the existing act states that the department must investigate itself. Bill C‑290 would amend the act. That part did not make sense to me because, if a member of society commits a wrongdoing, that person does not get to investigate their own actions. That is the police's job. The act asks the department to investigate itself. I have a problem with that. Bill C‑290 fixes that.

In conclusion, to regain the public's confidence, the government and its public servants must be exemplary. In order for that to happen, public service employees need to feel confident about disclosing anything they consider to be wrongdoing, and there have to be meaningful consequences following these disclosures, not only for public servants, but also for contractors and former public servants who may have kept quiet for a long time.

Public Sector Integrity ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, my constituents continue to vocalize their concerns regarding Baffinland's phase two proposal to the Mary River project. The government continues to ignore their concerns on impacts to the wildlife and surrounding environment.

The government will have to decide whether it will listen to the recommendations made by the Nunavut Impact Review Board, or do what it is good at and ignore the wishes of Nunavummiut. The decision will impact thousands of Nunavummiut and, more directly, the five communities of Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Arctic Bay, Igloolik and Sanirajak.

Since time immemorial, the land has provided communities with the resources they need to survive. The Inuit way of life is threatened if phase two is approved against the wishes of the hunters and trappers' organizations. They risk losing their rights to hunt and pass on their culture to their children and grandchildren.

On September 22, the Minister of Northern Affairs approved a nearly two million tonne increase in shipping iron ore. This increase was discouraged by the Nunavut Impact Review Board for over two years. Disappointingly, the minister chose to support private business interests over addressing the calls for mitigating current damages caused by Baffinland.

The government has an obligation to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. This agreement, which supports and upholds indigenous rights, must not be a secondary thought.

Jobs are important, but in a committee meeting, Moses Koonark of Pond Inlet said it best when he stated, “I'm not worried about gaining money, but I worry about the wildlife because that’s our food, that’s our way of life too.”

All levels of government are not recognizing the skills and expertise Inuit have. Instead, the governments are limiting Inuit employability to superficial job description requirements. Inuit are forced to rely on employment from industries that have allowed ongoing damage to our lands. If the land is no longer healthy enough to support families, conditions will worsen. People’s livelihoods are on the line.

I echo the question of Elder Rhoda Arnakalak of Pond Inlet, and others who attended the Nunavut Impact Review Board hearings: Has the federal government already made up its mind or will it properly consult with Inuit organizations regarding the Mary River project?

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.

Toronto—Danforth Ontario


Julie Dabrusin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Madam Speaker, I want to emphasize that our government shares the member's concern that Nunavummiut can meaningfully participate in impact assessment processes. This is a responsibility of the Nunavut Impact Review Board, an independent arm's-length body established through the Nunavut Agreement to ensure the interests of all Nunavummiut are protected.

On May 13, the independent Nunavut Impact Review Board submitted its report on the Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation's Mary River phase 2 project. We thank it for its important work and all northern indigenous partners for their participation in the NIRB process.

I note that prior to the Nunavut Impact Review Board's May 13 phase 2 recommendations, the Minister of Northern Affairs travelled to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, in August of last year and met with the community; project proponents; the designated Inuit organization, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association; and the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization.

Northern Affairs also provides funding to partners to participate in reviews of this nature. Since 2018, through the northern participant funding program, Northern Affairs has approved financial support to 13 organizations involved in the phase 2 review, with a total funding amount of just over $2 million. This funding has helped ensure the meaningful participation of north Baffin Inuit and other interested parties in the phase 2 review process.

I want to assure the member that the Government of Canada relies on this agreed-to process to assess the impacts of proposals such as the Mary River phase 2 development. The Nunavut Impact Review Board process helps ensure that resource projects create economic opportunity, protect the environment and respect Inuit rights.

We know there is much attention on this particular project. During the decision phase, parties wanting to share their opinions on the board's recommendation should contact the president of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.

The government will continue to work in partnership in creating employment opportunities through sustainable economic development, benefiting Nunavummiut and all Canadians.

Building on past budgets, budget 2022 proposes to provide $15 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, to support indigenous economic development in the north. I know that the minister works closely with territorial and Inuit partners, and all communities in Nunavut, to make sure their interests and rights are protected.

Our work continues to be guided by the values and principles of the Inuit Nunangat Policy, strengthening the Inuit-Crown partnership through meaningful collaboration. This policy was co-developed by the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee and was endorsed earlier this year, in April, at a meeting of this committee that was co-chaired by the Prime Minister and the president of the ITK.

The government remains committed to working with the hon. member for Nunavut in protecting these interests.

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Lori Idlout NDP Nunavut, NU

Uqaqtittiji, as stipulated in section 5.7.3 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the hunters and trappers associations and organizations in Nunavut have an essential responsibility to regulate and manage harvesting in their communities. I say this again: They protect harvesting rights in Nunavut.

The Liberal government has consistently refused to meet with impacted hunters and trappers organizations, or HTOs, regarding the impacts of the current project and the implications of approving phase 2. With such an important role the HTOs have in feeding their communities, I must ask again if the ministers met directly with the HTOs after the Nunavut Impact Review Board made its recommendation to reject phase 2.

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Madam Speaker, I am really happy the member opposite has raised this issue. As I mentioned earlier and I just want to reiterate, prior to the Nunavut Impact Review Board's May 13 phase 2 recommendation, the Minister of Northern Affairs travelled to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, in August of last year. He met with the community, project proponents, the designated Qikiqtani Inuit Association and, in specific answer to the question, also the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, so there was a visit in August of last year.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Madam Speaker, I am proud to rise on behalf of the people of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.

Recently, I rose during question period on behalf of Bonnie, a constituent who lives in a remote part of my riding. Bonnie and her husband are seniors living on a fixed income of $25,000 a year. Bonnie had just learned her oil bill this winter will be over $2,000, almost triple that of last year. I asked the government why it was not cutting the taxes fuelling energy inflation. As is often the case in this House, when asked about taxes or inflation, the government's only answer is climate change, which confirms what the Conservatives have been saying for years. The carbon tax is not an environmental policy. It is a tax policy.

That was not all the minister said in response to Bonnie's predicament. The minister said that higher energy prices were needed to address the existential threat to humanity. This belief in a climate apocalypse is a dangerous illusion. It is one thing for juvenile delinquents to throw food at priceless works of art and justify their actions with climate change, but it is another when a government itself is delusional. This should terrify Canadians like Bonnie. The Liberals already declared their ends justify any means when it came to the freedom convoy. If government members truly believe the carbon tax is saving the world, saving humanity, then what is it to them if senior citizens freeze to death this winter?

Of course, the carbon tax saving the world is nonsense. Humanity has witnessed sea levels rise by hundreds of metres. Our forebears spread to every corner of the world using stone tools, yet somehow the government believes that a two-metre change in sea level over 60 years spells the extinction of the human race.

Emissions reductions require thoughtful policy that balances the interests of post-industrial economics, industrial economies and developing economies. Conservatives have argued that Canada, having a small size, can maximize our efforts by focusing on replacing coal with natural gas. Canada can lead in developing new technologies such as carbon capture and small modular reactors. The best part of those policies is that they do not leave people like Bonnie freezing over the winter. The problem with calling it a climate emergency is that it can be used to feed greed through a carbon tax.

We saw how this government crushed civil liberties such as the right to due process when it declared a public order emergency because of illegally parked trucks. What rights are they willing to lock down to stop their climate emergency fantasy? History is full of examples of good, decent people doing horrible things because the end was near. Our culture has even had an expression for those people. We say they drank the kool-aid. The government has been binge drinking the green kool-aid.

It has embraced the myth of a climate change apocalypse with a cult-like zealotry. This type of extremism is driving the polarization in our country. If one does not sign on to the leftist narrative one is attacked as a denier and a conspiracist. It does not matter if one believes that climate change is measured in millions of years. It does not matter if one supports reducing global emissions. If one does not support making energy unaffordable for the most vulnerable, one is shunned by the cult.

Does the government's parliamentary secretary agree with the minister that climate change will lead to the extinction of the human race? If she really believes that, can she tell us exactly how many seniors the government is willing to see freeze to death this winter?

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

November 2nd, 2022 / 6:45 p.m.

Toronto—Danforth Ontario


Julie Dabrusin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Madam Speaker, I want to address the issue of inflation. The elevated inflation experienced now in Canada and, frankly, the rest of the world is a major issue for all Canadians.

We do understand that Canadians continue to experience higher costs of living and that many are struggling to make ends meet. However, it is important to remember that inflation is a global phenomenon. It is a lingering result of the COVID pandemic, which has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and by the snarled supply chains that are affecting people and businesses around the world.

While Canada's inflation rate of 6.9% is less severe than that of many of our peers, like the United States at 8.2%, the United Kingdom at 10.1%, and Germany at 10%, we appreciate that this will continue to be a difficult time for a lot of Canadians. While it is not a made-in-Canada problem, we do have a made-in-Canada solution to help those who need it the most.

We are moving forward with our affordability plan, which includes targeted measures worth $12.1 billion. For example, now that Bill C-30 has received royal assent, individuals and families receiving the GST credit will receive additional support starting this week. With Bill C-31, we are proposing the Canada dental benefit for children under 12 in families with an annual income of under $90,000 who do not have access to a private dental plan.

I am confident the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke can appreciate the positive impacts that our affordability measures are having on her constituents.

I would like to remind the House that all of these support measures are targeted and fiscally responsible. Now is not the time to pour unnecessary fuel on the flames of inflation.

When it comes to pollution pricing, we know that a national price on pollution is the most effective and least costly way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That is why we have moved forward with this system.

Climate action is no longer a theoretical political debate. The reality is that it is an economic necessity. Most provinces have their own pollution pricing mechanisms. In the provinces where the federal backstop had to be applied, families get payments to offset the costs of the federal pollution pricing.

The reality is that most households are getting back more than they pay. Indeed, in the four provinces where the federal system applies, the climate action incentive payments mean that a family of four will receive $745 in Ontario, $832 in Manitoba, $1,101 in Saskatchewan and $1,079 in Alberta. In addition, families in rural and small communities, like those living in Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, are eligible to receive an extra 10%. This is putting more money back in the pockets of Canadians.

This is important work, but I want to also highlight that it is not the entire climate plan. It is one of the tools in the tool box. We are working hard on affordability and at the same time addressing climate change.

TaxationAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Madam Speaker, every cult needs a chorus. It is such an irony that the Liberals would opt for the line “price on pollution”. According to this climate cult, every word the parliamentary secretary just said was pollution. Nobody looks to a cult for consistency. If the government really thought carbon dioxide was pollution, it would never utter another word.

Of course, cult leaders never hold themselves to the same standard they set for their followers. It is why the Prime Minister can fly to Tofino for a one-day vacation. It is that same climate hypocrisy which galls Canadians.

In one carbon-spewing breath, the Liberals call it an existential threat and then they will turn around and fly hundreds of envirocrats and groupies to the next COP meeting in a human-rights-violating state.

Can the parliamentary secretary tell us what number of climate cultists will we be paying to fly to Egypt's resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh to attend COP 27 this year?