The Marois government wants to encourage employees to report wrongdoing they would witness in the public sector. The government plans to introduce legislation to protect whistleblowers from reprisals.
President of the Treasury Board, Stéphane Bédard, yesterday confirmed to La Presse that is working on this issue, but would not give details. He suggested that the measure would not be part of the bill "On integrity in public contracts," he will introduce Thursday.
In its program adopted in 2011, the Parti Québécois (PQ) said it wants to pass a law to "protect officials wanting to expose misconduct or other serious problems within the public service." Prime Minister Pauline Marois has not included this measure in her election platform, but the party has promoted this during the campaign. It stated in a press release dated August 6 that "A law protecting whistleblowers in the public service will be adopted" if the PQ came to power.
It is little know that the PQ filed a bill to this effect while it was in opposition. In 2009, the member Sylvain Simard, who left politics earlier this year, introduced Bill 196 on "whistleblower protection in the Quebec public service." The Charest government did give its approval for the idea to be debated in the National Assembly. It was not adopted.
The bill would require any officer of a public or quasi-public body to establish "internal procedures" to allow employees to confidentially disclose a contravention of law, misuse of public funds, or gross mismanagement, for example. It provided for the prohibition of retaliation against a whistleblower - any threat, disciplinary action, demotion, dismissal or any measure that adversely affects working conditions.
The PQ would even create the position of "Quebec Public Sector Integrity Commissioner", in charge of enforcing the law and appointed by the National Assembly. The Commissioner would receive public servants' disclosures of wrongdoing, as well as complaints from those who feel victimized by reprisals. The PQ would give the Commissioner's investigators the powers of the Public Inquiries Act. The PQ wanted those guilty of retaliation, or public servants who make false statements, to be punishable by fines or even imprisonment not exceeding two years.
Stéphane Bédard did not want to specify the provisions of the bill that would retain.
Alberta and Ottawa
The Alberta government introduced legislation to protect whistleblowers yesterday. Ottawa adopted a whistleblower law in 2006. Four years later, Auditor General Sheila Fraser criticized the first Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, Christiane Ouimet, for rejecting all the complaints received and for taking reprisals against employees. Ms. Ouimet resigned in controversy.
To date, only one case of wrongdoing has been reported as result of a disclosure in Ottawa. Commissioner Mario Dion tabled a report of proven wrongdoing last spring. Most disclosures are deemed inadmissible.
On March 31, 21 disclosures were under investigation and the admissibility of another 72 were being examined. The first three complaints about retaliation were filed with the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal last year.
According to the whistleblowers advocacy group Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR) the law is flawed and must be revised.
Original article on La Presse website (in French)