A Tale of Two Committees

This piece was first published, in edited form, in the Hill Times on July 3, 2014.

When Dickens wrote the opening to A Tale of Two Cities, set over two hundred years ago, he described an age of contrasts – wisdom and foolishness, belief and skepticism, hope and despair. He also wryly observed that this could be said of any era. It certainly seemed true to whistleblowing advocates attending two sets of recent Parliamentary committee hearings.

The committees in question were the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates (or OGGO, as it’s commonly known) and the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (or TRAN). In both cases, the committees had serious, deeply embedded problems to tackle: whistleblower protection on one hand, and aviation safety on the other.

For its part, OGGO set its sights on reviewing the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act in early February. This is the law which is supposed to protect federal government whistleblowers, but which has been spectacularly ineffective at doing so for 10 years. Without going into details – David Hutton and Allan Cutler have dealt with the issues thoroughly in previous editions of the Hill Times – it would be no exaggeration to say that the law intended to protect whistleblowers is little known and even less trusted by the rank-and-file public service.… Read the rest

Big gap between Liberal rhetoric and action on veterans issues

By Sean Bruyea

Veterans and Canadians better stop holding their breath. Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr is way behind schedule and doesn’t have the oomph to fulfill his mandate letter. Ultimately, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberal government will be charged and condemned for this bungling of veterans’ issues.

When broken down, Minister Hehr’s mandate letter listed 23 or so priority promises. Of those, one year into the mandate, only two have been fully implemented and another partially.

Injured veterans are in the process of receiving income-loss payments increased from 75 to 90 per cent of military salary. Also, the annual cap at two per cent has been removed, allowing the annual income to keep pace with the consumer price index. As for the partially fulfilled promises: the first of nine Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) district offices has opened with a lengthy timetable for the remaining eight.

There is little excuse for delay for most other promises. It costs little to “end the time limit for surviving spouses to apply for vocational rehabilitation and assistance services.” Some cost more but are straightforward such as “increase the veteran survivor’s pension from 50 to 70 per cent.” Considering just more than 53,000 “survivors” currently collect pensions and approximately 3,000 sadly pass away each year, time is of the essence.… Read the rest

Harper’s Man Friday

Ian Bron and Allan Cutler

Last week, the government announced that Stephen Harper had appointed a new Integrity Commissioner, Joe Friday, who has been with the office since 2008 and was the last Commissioner’s Deputy. This was not a surprise to us, but it is a disappointment. It is also a slap in the face of conscientious public servants looking for a safe place to report misconduct. They, as well as the Canadian public have a right to expect an aggressive, thorough, and competent Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (OPSIC).

Friday served under both previous Commissioners, Christiane Ouimet and Mario Dion. Ouimet’s tenure was an unmitigated disaster. Just three and a half years into her tenure, she resigned in the face of a damning report from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) that concluded she had been engaging in the very kinds of acts she was supposed to be preventing – harassment and reprisals against staff believed to be speaking out about abuse and mismanagement in her office. She left with her pension intact and a $500,000 lump sum. When called before Committee in 2010, Friday denied seeing anything wrong: “Madame Ouimet was carrying that out in her role as commissioner, which would be appropriate.… Read the rest