Federal Integrity Commissioner claims to be making headway

Feds rooting out wrongdoing in the public sector

That’s what the headline reads in several newspapers. The basis of this claim is a report by the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, where Mario Dion is the Commissioner. In it, he claims that the office is receiving more complaints of wrongdoing.

How journalists leap from “more complaints” to “rooting out wrongdoing” is beyond us, particularly as most complaints received still aren’t being investigated and only one instance of wrongdoing has been found. To make matters worse, that solitary case included no sanctions for the wrongdoer (who had left the public service) or the people who were supposed to be supervising her. She wasn’t even named. Parading this sole case as a triumph is, frankly, laughable. Furthermore, expecting public servants to be impressed insults their intelligence. They won’t be fooled, nor surprised: such propaganda-like overstatements are commonplace in the bureaucracy.

While Dion is a huge improvement over his predecessor, the disgraced Christiane Ouimet, it is our opinion that he is still the wrong man for the job. He showed a lack of integrity in accepting the post – which he had promised not to seek, and then denied making the promise. He showed a lack of understanding of the nature of his post when he ran to the Privy Council Office to report that a former staff member was pursuing legal action – he is supposed to report to Parliament, not the bureaucracy. He showed bad judgment in retaining the Deputy Commissioner, Joe Friday – who stood by and did nothing as Ouimet acted atrociously.

With respect to the law that gives him his powers, he has essentially ignored David Hutton – head of the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR). Mr. Hutton’s excellent analysis of the law makes it clear that major changes are needed to make it effective. But Mr. Dion will only concede in his report that a few minor amendments are needed.

As to the legislated 5-year review process for the law, which is in the hands of Treasury Board, nothing has been heard as the deadline has come and gone. We suspect that the review will not be independent and will exclude NGOs that might be too critical – and we believe that Mr. Dion knows this.

Furthermore, his efforts to control the communications about his office, to paint a rosy picture of ironclad protection for whistleblowers and results in rooting out wrongdoing make it clear to us that he is a creature of the Ottawa bureaucracy. This is not a good thing, as it means that he has retained the attitude that waves must not be made, that failures must always be hidden and success always declared, and that personal relationships between senior executives are the best way to resolve problems. I have witnessed myself how he does not perceive how uncomfortable it is for a whistleblower to hear him refer to a executive on a friendly first-name basis – when that executive is the one being accused of wrongdoing.

It has also been a growing irritant to Canadians for Accountability, FAIR and Democracy Watch that he has used our consultative committee as a kind of briefing session in which we are expected to be passive recipients of information. Criticism has been received as offence. Also, the condescension in some of these meetings – not from Mr. Dion, who is usually diplomatic and polite, but from some other government representatives and participants – has been palpable.

So we are dismayed that the press has taken the hook, line and sinker on this report. The evidence to date tells us that while Mr. Dion is smoother and more competent than Ms. Ouimet, little will change for whistleblowers. We can only hope that opposition parties will ask hard questions where the press has failed to do so.

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Feds rooting out wrongdoing in the public sector
Ottawa Citizen, June 25, 2012
Summary: More public sector workers are coming forward with allegations of wrongdoing and reprisals in the workplace – continuing a year-over-year trend, according to the public sector integrity commissioner.

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