Treasury Board President Stockwell Day named a new interim Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada Mario Dion last week after Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s recent audit found Canada’s former public sector integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet spent the last three years doing very little with her $6.5-million annual budget and very little in response to the hundreds of disclosures of wrongdoing from whistleblowers in the federal public service.
Ms. Ouimet retired in October before the AG’s audit was released on Dec. 9. But Ms. Ouimet has left a mess behind and must answer some serious questions about her leadership. So should the government.
In the last three years, her office received 228 complaints, seven were dismissed without being investigated and none resulted in a finding of wrongdoing. Ms. Fraser found in her audit that Ms. Ouimet had taken part in the very same behaviour she was hired to prevent from happening in the federal public service. She berated and marginalized staff and looked for vengeance against those she suspected of reporting against her.
Ms. Ouimet did little to help federal employees who complained to her office of wrongdoing, Ms. Fraser concluded. “Files were closed without any review or serious inquiry. There wasn’t enough documentation and also the nature of the work that was done wasn’t appropriate,” said Ms. Fraser at a news conference after releasing her audit. “I find this obviously very troubling and, I think, very disappointing.” According to Ms. Fraser’s audit, staff at the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner’s Office said Ms. Ouimet “yelled, swore, and also berated, marginalized and intimidated certain PSIC employees, and engaged in reprisal actions.”
The Public Sector Integrity Commissioner’s Office had a turnover rate of about 50 per cent every year between August 2007 and July 2009, according to Ms. Fraser’s audit. Ms. Fraser said she found the employees’ complaints to be well-founded and said the complaints closed without adequate investigation should be reviewed. “I think it is necessary for the commission to review the files and to provide assurance to Parliament, to Canadians and especially to those people who brought forward allegations that they have been dealt with seriously and in a credible manner.”
Mr. Day recently said the files should be reopened. “We definitely expect that all of these cases would be reviewed,” he told The Globe and Mail. But Mr. Day also pointed out that the commissioner is independent of Parliament and that Parliament cannot dictate its activities, but that “there’s a cloud over all the cases right now.”
Last Tuesday Mr. Day said of the new interim commissioner: “I expect, and it’s certainly the expectation of Parliamentarians that, among all the responsibilities he’ll have, they will include following up on all rejected cases reviewed by the previous commission.”
It appears the current legislation, up for statutory review in 2012, outlining the mandate of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner’s Office is poorly written and should be tightened up. Parliament should do this. But Parliament should also find out why and how Ms. Ouimet, who was supposed to protect public servants who have disclosed wrongdoing and those who have cooperated in investigations, was allowed to carry on for three years in this top prestigious post