Whistleblowers need not apply

Published in the Hill Times on October 24, 2011

It was last October that Christiane Ouimet resigned as the first Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. In three years, with a staff of over 20 with a budget of over $6.5 million, she was unable to find a single whistleblower in a public service over 400,000 employees.

In contrast, our organization, Canadians for Accountability – with a very limited budget and staffed only by volunteers – managed to meet and validated of over 100 potential whistleblowers in the same period. Not surprisingly, some of them had tried to report the situation to the Integrity Commissioner with disastrous results.

Recognizing the need to help people, I let it be known that I would be applying for the position of Integrity Commissioner when the opportunity presented itself. I felt that I could offer the right perspective in the job as very few people understand whistleblowing other than from a legal or academic viewpoint. And, on the other hand, many who do understand the issues don’t have the background or knowledge of the process and legal framework.

However, having now seen the Selection Criteria for the new Integrity Commissioner, I have decided not to apply.

This process, as with the previous process, is being run by the Privy Council Office. The PCO admitted at Parliamentary Committee that they decided last time that the fourteen applicants did not meet the original selection criteria.

Instead they searched within their inner circle and found Christiane Ouimet. The appointment was an abysmal failure.

I have every reason to believe that the process will be equally fair this time. In fact, according to unofficial sources, internal initiatives have already taken place.

There are other solid reasons to believe that I would not be chosen. Part of the Experience selection criteria requires “significant experience in building and sustaining effective relationships with stakeholders such as Parliamentarians, senior government officials and the media”. Very few people, other than senior Ottawa bureaucrats, would have this experience. I have done this – but I wonder whether my experience would be accepted. I am also amazed that they do not consider whistleblowers as stakeholders.

The “knowledge” requirements are equally revealing. You need knowledge of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, the Parliamentary system, the legislative and policy context in the federal public sector (including disclosure of wrongdoing), conducting investigations and legal principles and dispute resolution methods. Again, knowledge of whistleblowing, the impact on people – their lives, work situations – and the trauma associated is not considered important.

The “abilities” section continues the flow. You have to be able to interpret statutes, regulations, analyze different opinions and viewpoints within the framework of the law, communicate orally and in writing and lead and manage an organization to reach ‘corporate objectives’. Once again an ability to empathize with, listen to, or understand trauma associated with whistleblowing is not considered important.

As for ethics, it gets only two mentions. First it is acknowledged as an acceptable field of study for educational purposes. It is inserted between law and public administration. Second,  it is mentioned within the knowledge requirement but requires an understanding of the ‘framework’ (i.e. process) in government not the subject matter.

PCO will get what it wants. The qualifications are such the best type of candidate needed – one who understands the issues, the people involved and the need to improve the situation – will one by hired by luck. Based on past history and the culture in Ottawa, the odds are slim.

Furthermore, fighting against the status quo (and someone had to do it) meant that neither I nor anyone in a similar situation would have the political connections necessary to gain support for my appointment. Those who would support me have no decision-making power.

In this appointment process, as in many endeavours, networking counts for more than knowledge or ability. So, as I am perceived as an antagonist by many in the system, even an unknown outsider would stand better odds than myself.

If that weren’t enough, word has it that I have been unofficially ‘blacklisted’.

This could have been the ideal fit. But, as the Gambler said, “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”. This is a time to fold’ em. In any event, I prefer to have a job, albeit a volunteer job, where I can continue the fight for justice rather than becoming another bureaucrat that will be forced to defend the status quo. I prefer a position where I can help people rather than a position where I am constrained by policies. I prefer to focus on people rather than the legal framework.

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