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Alliance of more than 30 citizen groups calls on Auditor General to audit Integrity Commissioner's $500,000 payoff

Auditor General should also audit entire government to expose other similar payoffs

Government could have avoided payoff if it had waited for Auditor's report on Integrity Commissioner

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

Monday, March 14, 2011

OTTAWA - Today, an alliance of more than 30 accountability organizations sent a letter to the Auditor General calling on her to audit the $500,000 plus secret severance payoff offered by the federal Conservative government to former disgraced federal Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet (a payoff that included a gag order) -- To see details about the alliance calling for the payoff to be cancelled, and for other measures, click here.

According to Assistant Secretary to the federal Cabinet Joe Wild (who was the main government lawyer responsible for the Conservatives' so-called Federal Accountability Act), it is "standard practice" to pay off government employees who resign voluntarily with secret payoffs of hundreds of thousands of dollars, payoffs that include a gag order.

As a result, the alliance called on the Auditor General to require all federal government institutions to expose any similar past payoffs, and to audit them and recommend strongly that the law be changed to make such payoffs clearly illegal.  For example, the Ethics Commissioner currently has a fund of more than $840,000 for severance, and has paid out on average $100,000 annually in severance in many recent years.

"The Auditor General must examine the payoff given to the former disgraced Integrity Commissioner, and all similar past payoffs by federal government institutions, to find out just how much money the government has wasted," 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.

The alliance also questioned Prime Minister Harper's claim last Thursday that the payoff was the "cheapest" way to deal with the situation.  If the government had just waited for the Auditor General's December report on the Integrity Commissioner (which it knew was going to be released), it would have had justifiable reasons to propose a resolution in the House and Senate to fire the Integrity Commissioner, and if the resolution passed the Commissioner would have been fired at no cost to the government.

Even if the former Integrity Commissioner sued the government, that lawsuit does not cost anything because it would be defended by staff lawyers who are already being paid by the government.

David Hutton, Executive Director of FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform), a whistleblower charity that has studied the law and monitored its implementation since 2007, observed: "By acting unilaterally to reward and get rid of the disgraced Integrity Commissioner, the government created the perception that even officers of Parliament can be told what to do by the Prime Minister.  The cheaper solution would have been for the government to come clean earlier about the Commissioner's very weak enforcement record, and take steps years ago to replace her."

Severance is given to people who are fired (at a standard rate in Canada of 1-2 weeks pay for each year served) -- severance payoffs are not usually offered to people who retire or resign like Ms. Ouimet did, especially not as large as given to Ms. Ouimet, and especially when clear evidence exists of the person 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).

Given that such payoffs are apparently "standard practice", the alliance also called on the Auditor General to require every federal government institution to disclose whether they have ever offered a similar payoff to anyone.

In particular, the Auditor General should examine whether a similar secret payoff was offered by the Conservatives 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).

The alliance will continue to push all federal political parties to strengthen the whistleblower protection system, and to finally correct the many other flaws in the current good government system.  (
To see the list of needed whistleblower reforms, click here -- 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

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


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