After five years and more than 400 complaints, the federal Public Sector Integrity Commission has finally found wrongdoing.
Mario Dion, the office’s commissioner, tabled a report before the House of Commons and Senate on Thursday stating that a regional manager at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada committed serious wrongdoing under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, including misuse of public funds, public assets and gross mismanagement.
“It is the first time they have found any wrongdoing. It is the end of a five-year drought,” David Hutton, executive director of Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform, told the Toronto Star.
The commission found that a federal public servant — a western regional manager in Human Resources and Skills Development who is not otherwise identified — purchased non work-related merchandise with public funds, including items supplied by a private business in which the manager had an interest.
“I have determined that the breadth, severity and frequency of the manager’s wrongdoing constitute gross mismanagement in the public sector,” which Dion said included using taxpayers’ dollars to buy at least two LCD High Definition televisions for her own home.
Hutton said the striking shortcoming of the investigation was the failure to sanction or even name the manager.
“This seems yet another case of the wrongdoers getting a soft landing. Without real consequences, there’s nothing to deter other wrongdoers, which is the whole purpose of this agency,” he said.
A spokesperson for the integrity commissioner defended the decision not to name the bureaucrat at the centre of the report. “In this case, we did not feel that it was necessary to name the person in order to fully describe the nature of wrongdoing,” said Edith Lachapelle.
The investigation also found that the manager:
- Purchased massage chairs that were largely unused. One was stored in a men’s washroom at a satellite office.
- Operated a fitness franchise and took a government printer and office furniture to that franchise.
- Used government-issued equipment such as a computer and BlackBerry to conduct private business matters.
- Almost exclusively used a government vehicle intended for business use by all employees at the office.
In the Commons Thursday, NDP MP Jean Crowder demanded to know what further action would be taken in light of the revelations of “malfeasance.”
“No one was able to catch this manager for years, and the commissioner said that the department is to blame,” Crowder said.
But Treasury Board President Tony Clement said the report illustrated that the integrity commissioner is doing his job.
“He is doing his job under legislation that we created. It is comprehensive. It is designed to root out corruption or other bad practices,” Clement said.
Since its creation the commission has been dogged with complaints that it was a paper tiger that shelved legitimate whistleblower complaints, including one from Health Canada scientists who alleged the Conservative government was pressuring them to approve new drugs without proper scrutiny.
The former ethics czar, Christiane Ouimet, resigned abruptly in October 2010 while auditor general Sheila Fraser investigated her office. The report, released later that year — after Ouimet received a severance package worth more than $500,000 — alleged that she yelled and swore at her staff and carried out vendettas against staff even after they left.
The report also found that the office investigated only seven of the 228 complaints it received during her three-year tenure. No wrongdoing was ever found.