Alliance of more than 30 citizen groups calls on Auditor
General to audit
Integrity Commissioner's $500,000 payoff
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
the Facebook group
to get the $500,000 back, and to strengthen the federal whistleblower
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
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
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
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).
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Hutton, Executive Director of FAIR (Federal Accountability
Initiative for Reform):