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Alliance of more than 30 citizen groups calls for Integrity Commissioner's severance pay package to be cancelled

Other commissioners must also be audited by committees and Auditor General

Join the Facebook group to get the $500,000 back, and strengthen the federal whistleblower protection system

Monday, March 7, 2011

OTTAWA - Today, an alliance of more than 30 accountability organizations called on the Public Accounts Committee to pass a resolution recommending, and the government to follow through on, the cancellation of the reported $500,000 plus secret severance pay package offered by the government to former disgraced Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet.

Severance is given to people who are fired (at a standard rate in Canada of 1-2 weeks pay for each year served) -- severance pay offs are not usually offered to people who retire or resign like Ms. Ouimet did, especially when clear evidence exists of failing to do their job properly (Ms. Ouimet was found by the Auditor General in a December report to have not done her job properly in many ways).

The Committee should require the government officials who negotiated the deal to testify, and also question the government on whether a similar secret package was offered to former Ethics Commissioner Bernard Shapiro, who left office in spring 2007 after three years of similarly very weak enforcement out of a five-year term. (NOTE: The Ethics Commissioner's annual reports show a high level of severance payouts for 2006-2007 (p. 25 -- approx. $118,000), 2007-2008 (p. 33 -- approx. $73,000), and even higher in
2005-2006 (p. 29 -- approx. $222,000) and as of the end of fiscal year 2009-2010 the Ethics Commissioner's office financial statements state that they have a severance payment fund approx. $841,000).

David Hutton, Executive Director of
FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform), a whistleblower charity that has studied the legislation and monitored its implementation since 2007, observed: "The government has generously rewarded Christiane Ouimet, the senior official whose serious misconduct for three years undermined efforts to combat misconduct within the public service, and then hid this controversial settlement and secretly gagged both itself and Ouimet, apparently in an effort to prevent the full facts from emerging.  It is still refusing even to promise meaningful action to fix its discredited whistleblower protection system.  This government seems soft on misconduct in high places, careless with taxpayers dollars, and unconcerned about its broken promise to protect honest public servants from reprisals by corrupt bosses."

As well, the alliance called on a House committee to follow-up on Ms. Ouimet's testimony on Thursday by calling Interim Commissioner Mario Dion to explain why he contacted the Privy Council Office and shared information about staffing and other situations, actions aimed at protecting the Clerk of the Privy Council.

"Mario Dion's actions neatly illustrate the hazards of appointing Ottawa insiders as Parliamentary watchdogs.  However well-intentioned they might be, their instincts and loyalties are the product of the environment.  This can only be overcome with more rigorous appointment processes and more vigilant oversight by Parliament," said Ian Bron, Secretary of Canadians for Accountability.
(To see the list of needed reforms, click here).

In addition, the alliance called on a House committee to follow up on the letter seven Officers of Parliament recently sent to the House urging stronger parliamentary reviews of their appointments and performance (For another site to see the letter, click here).

As suggested in the letter, a House Committee must require federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson (who didn't sign the letter) and Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd (who did) to provide details and testify about their enforcement records since they began their jobs three to four years ago.

Both commissioners' annual reports provide far less detail than the annual reports of the former disgraced Integrity Commissioner, as they have not disclosed how many complaints and cases they have had since starting their jobs, nor how they have addressed each complaint.  Available evidence points to both commissioners sitting on at least 50 cases each, and letting at least 20 people off the hook with secret rulings.

"The federal ethics and lobbying commissioners have been disclosing less information about complaints they have received and how they have ruled in the past few years than the former disgraced integrity commissioner disclosed, and the available information shows a pattern of sitting on cases and letting most people off the hook in secret," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the
Government Ethics Coalition which is made up of 31 groups with a total membership of more than three million Canadians, "A House committee and the Auditor General must require these two commissioners to provide details about their complaint handling so that the full extent of their weak enforcement records is made public." (To see details about the Ethics Commissioner's weak enforcement record, click here and to see details about the Commissioner of Lobbying's weak record, click here, and to see details about the Information Commissioner's lack of powers and loopholes in the Access to Information Act, click here).

The alliance will continue to push for all these actions and changes until federal political parties finally correct the many flaws in the current good government system.  (To see details about all of the flaws, click here)

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For more information, contact:
Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Government Ethics Coalition
Tel: (613) 241-5179

David Hutton, Executive Director of FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform):
Tel: (613) 567-1511

Ian Bron, Secretary, Canadians for Accountability,
Tel: (613) 740-0192
Cell: (613) 296-5080

Democracy Watch's Voter Rights Campaign and Government Ethics Campaign webpages


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