I call the meeting to order.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
I ask the people with cameras to vacate the room, if you don't mind. Thank you very much.
This meeting is public and televised. Pursuant to Standing Order 32(5) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, December 9, 2010, we are dealing with the report of the Auditor General of Canada on the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, referred to the committee on Thursday, December 9, 2010.
Bear with me while I go through everyone. We have with us this morning Madam Sheila Fraser, Auditor General of Canada. With her are Mr. John Wiersema, Deputy Auditor General, and Ms. Linda Drainville, principal. We welcome the three of you.
From the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada we have Mr. Joe Friday, acting deputy commissioner, and Mr. Brian Radford, acting senior counsel. Welcome.
I understand that Madam Fraser and Mr. Friday both have opening statements.
From the audit committee of the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, we have Mr. Michael Nelson, the chair. Mr. Nelson doesn't have a statement but is here to answer questions should they arise. Welcome, sir.
I thank you very much.
We'll go immediately to Madam Fraser.
We thank you for this opportunity to discuss our audit of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada. As you mentioned, I'm accompanied today by John Wiersema, Deputy Auditor General, and Linda Drainville, principal, who were responsible for this audit.
The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was established in 2007 under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. Both that office and the act are meant to provide federal public servants and members of the public with a way to disclose potential wrongdoing in the federal public sector and to protect those who make a disclosure from reprisal.
Under the act, a disclosure of wrongdoing that concerns Public Sector Integrity Canada may be made to the Auditor General of Canada. When investigating such disclosures, the Auditor General has the same duties and powers under the act as the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
Christiane Ouimet was Canada's Public Sector Integrity Commissioner during the period covered by this audit. She retired from public service on October 18, 2010.
Between November 2008 and July 2009, my office received three complaints against the former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The allegations we received related to her behaviour as deputy head, including her interactions with her staff, reprisals or retaliatory actions taken against former employees, performance pay decisions, and the performance of her mandated functions.
On May 11, 2009, owing to limitations in the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act--for example, the law prohibits consulting former public servants--our office ceased investigations under the act and began an audit under the Auditor General Act.
In our view, the allegations made by the complainants concerning the former commissioner's conduct and interactions with her staff, retaliatory actions by the commissioner, and the performance of her mandated functions, are founded.
Given that the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is subject to review in April 2012, I would like to mention two limitations of the act that we identified during our investigation.
In the course of an investigation, the commissioner can only obtain information from public servants. If it is necessary to obtain information from someone who is no longer in the public service, the act requires the commissioner to stop the investigation and refer it to a competent authority.
In such a case, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act no longer applies to protect from reprisal individuals who cooperate in the new process.
The second limitation we noted is the lack of an independent mechanism for addressing allegations of reprisal within the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada. Under the act, complaints of reprisal can only be filed with the commissioner. Consequently, there is no independent mechanism in place to address complaints alleging that the commissioner engaged in reprisal actions.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. My colleagues and I would be happy to answer any questions the committee members may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you for this opportunity to appear.
I'm here today in my capacity as acting deputy commissioner and general counsel of the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, following the departure of the previous commissioner and in the absence of an interim commissioner, until this morning. I've been fulfilling the duties of the acting deputy head of the office since October 18 of this year.
I'm here today in my position representing the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to speak to issues that affect our organization as we move forward, using the Auditor General's report as part of our strategy to do so.
I'm not here in a position to speak on behalf of the former commissioner or to comment on any findings in the report that are personal to her.
The Auditor General's report, tabled on December 9, raises a number of issues of importance and concern, not only to the Auditor General and to Parliament, but also to me, to members of our office and to Canadians. Confidence in our ability to carry out our mandate is essential if we are to succeed.
In particular, the report raises concerns with a number of our files. We are prepared to have all our closed files reviewed externally by an expert, and we will be raising this as a priority with the Interim Commissioner, Mario Dion. We want to ensure that the decisions made are fully supported, clearly analyzed and defensible.
If a review determines that further work, including reopening of a file for investigation, is warranted, we will certainly carry out that work.
Mr. Chair, I sincerely believe that our office is capable and well-equipped to carry out its mandate. One aspect of strength, in my view, is the capacity for self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-improvement. I'm confident we will demonstrate this as we continue our work.
To move forward now and to enhance confidence, not only in our office but also in federal institutions and the public service more widely, we intend to assess the work we've done to date, address any issues of concern, and build towards the future by ensuring the rigour of our work.
The audit period under review began on April 15, 2007, the date our office was created, and ended on July 31, 2009. I would like to state that, since the end of the audit period, we have made continued progress in building the capacity of our small organization.
I believe it is relevant to mention these achievements, if only briefly, to indicate that we are focused on continuing development, on refining our procedures and approaches, and on ensuring our capacity to meet the challenges of our work.
Our investigations and inquiries unit has undergone major development in the last year. We've completed a process mapping exercise to make our intake and case handling processes clearer and more streamlined. We have an experienced and dedicated staff. We've added a new director general of investigations to our office, and new investigators, who bring considerable experience and acumen to their roles. We're also in active recruitment mode to continue to build our strength.
We've continued to develop various tools and guidance for our team to carry out its mandate. We currently have 15 investigations under way across a wide range of areas within the federal public sector. We are also working diligently to ensure we are carrying out this work in a positive and mutually collaborative and professional environment. Our focus is certainly on ensuring that this is maintained.
We are also making progress in communicating a clear message to our stakeholders regarding our mandate and authority to act. We can exercise only the authority that is within our legislation. Ensuring people know who we are, and what we can and cannot do, is essential.
My message today, Mr. Chair, is that we take the report of the Auditor General very seriously and that we will respond to it responsibly by ensuring that the quality of the work we have done, the work we are doing and the work we will continue to do meets the expectations of Canadians.
This concludes my remarks, Mr. Chair. I look forward to any questions committee members may have.
The clerk, as per our discussion, did make an effort to get in touch with Madame Ouimet. The clerk also gave an invitation to the Clerk of the Privy Council.
We were—correct me if I'm wrong, Madame—I think unable to reach Madame Ouimet. There was an indication that there was no forwarding address or coordinates where we could reach her. With respect to the Clerk, the Clerk is in cabinet committee this morning until about 12 o'clock, and in a private briefing with the Prime Minister afterwards.
If you want to pursue that, you can do so in the business part of the meeting a little later on and follow up on some of the discussions. I hope that clarifies why the people who are here are here. We appreciate their being here.
First question in our first round, Mr. Bains.
Thank you for your question. If I may, I will respond in English so that I can answer as accurately as possible.
Mr. Chair, the importance of a healthy working environment can't be overstated, in my view. We are currently trying to attend, to our best abilities, to the needs of our existing employees by providing access to whatever external support services are necessary, such as the employee assistance program, for example.
We have an internal conflict management system officer who has been appointed within the office. That person carries out responsibilities under Treasury Board policy to address workplace conflict in the most informal and appropriate way possible. We have also ensured we have the necessary access to the full range of human resource services that are available.
I am satisfied with your answer.
I have another question. I am certain that, in February, when you accepted the Department of Justice mandate to act as the general counsel, you did not expect to find yourself in a situation such as the one we have here today.
Over the past months and during the period covered by the investigation, did you participate in the analysis of the various complaints covered by the audit we are discussing today? Did you make any decisions or provide advice with respect to those investigations?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all for your attendance today.
What most of us and the public at large are having trouble understanding is how we got to this point without something triggering an action. To quote from the AG report, the starting point of this was:
||The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada (PSIC) was created in April 2007 to provide a means for federal public servants and members of the public to disclose potential wrongdoing in the federal public sector.
The upshot of all of this is that within that office there were people who wanted to whistle-blow and who ended up being victims of the very types of actions that the office was created to give employees protection from.
Therefore, the obvious question is, how did we get to this point without something triggering a review, a red flag, something to say to someone, including politicians, somewhere within this whole system, what should have happened, what should have happened and didn't happen, and what is an area that we need to create? I know the Auditor General talked about a meeting of officers of Parliament in the new year, and I'd like to hear about that. Specifically, how did we get to this point without any flags being raised at all until we were in crisis?
You're on the time, sir.
Thank you, Chair, and good morning.
And thank you to all of the witnesses for being here today to discuss this very important, and troubling, topic.
On behalf of the government, I would certainly like to thank the Auditor General for her exceptional work on this special report on the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
Quite frankly, if we don't have confidence in what we're doing here, the system doesn't work. This is absolutely crucial to where we go forward as a parliament. I can assure you that we do appreciate the good work on this file.
We would expect—not just hope, but expect—that the new interim commissioner will follow up on all these cases and initiate an immediate review. I would expect that, and I would imagine most of my colleagues would expect that as well. Of course, we will see what comes down the pipe, but I think that expectation is there.
I think we also have to recognize, as Madam Fraser has alluded to, that the appointment we have now is for a temporary interim commissioner. I fully imagine a selection process will be launched very shortly to identify and appoint a new one. I think as well we have to recognize that the appointment of this commissioner—and it was touched on by Madam Fraser—will be done after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in the House and the Senate, and after approval of the appointment by resolution of the House and Senate.
Coming from a person who has sat on government operations, we examine the qualifications and of course the competence of the nominee. I guess that comes back to Mr. Christopherson's point: maybe Parliament has dropped the ball a bit here. Obviously we have a regime in place, but the former commissioner broke or disregarded the policies in the act.
It's quite evident that the rules weren't followed. We find that very troubling. The same commissioner was also before parliamentary committee five times and we didn't pick up on this. This should have been picked up on—somehow, someway. I find this very, very disturbing.
I'm looking for potential solutions, Madam Fraser, perhaps suggestions from you. Are there ways we could address situations such as this one earlier on? Could we identify them differently? Do we maybe need a more robust reporting system incorporated into the annual report of that agent? Do you have additional thoughts on this or any other methods that you could maybe make us aware of?
There are a couple of issues I'd like to address. In this particular case we did not look at the appointment process. My own impression is that it's very difficult for a parliamentary committee to get into issues of character and behaviour. I don't want this necessarily to reflect on this particular individual, but the political level and the parliamentary level have to rely on the validation that is done by bureaucrats.
I would suggest that someone go back and look at the process. Was there anything that was missing in this particular process? Were there 360-degree reviews done, for example? Do people randomly select former employees...not only the references given but other employees? There may be things like this that should be brought into an appointment process. I know in a lot of cases it's actually very rigorous--our neighbours and colleagues, everybody, are all talked to.
Anyway, this might be something the parliamentary committee should consider. What is the process and what is the vetting? How did the person arrive there? Did the person actually apply for this job or not?
Those are maybe the kinds of things that need to be given more precision to parliamentary committees. Quite frankly, I don't think parliamentary committees can get into asking a lot of those questions.
My question is for Madam Fraser on the process.
I'm looking back to May 16, 2006, when the government operations committee was reviewing the potential appointment of Gwyn Morgan as public appointments chair. A member of that committee summarized the process for appointing independent agents of Parliament, which this commissioner was. It was described as:
||...a very rigorous process, and that it involves examination, transparency, and meritocracy.
Further, and again I'm quoting:
||...there is a very broad consultation process that's followed by an examination of qualifications, examination of security and criminal investigation, and then another process, called a peer review process, that's arm's-length from any minister, before anything gets presented up to the minister, and indeed before it goes up to the Prime Minister.
The person who made those comments at that committee was our current chair, Mr. Volpe. So it's not a partisan issue, and I think it's a disservice to try to make this into a partisan issue.
For the record, it is not the government that appointed this commissioner. The commissioner is appointed by Parliament, and I think it's important to go through the history.
Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Chair. This is important background to my question.
Madame Ouimet had been working in the Public Service of Canada for 28 years. Her appointment was considered by the government operations committee and was passed unanimously. Her nomination was considered by the Senate on June 19, 2007. The Senate agreed to her appointment on that day unanimously. Madame Ouimet was appointed as the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner on August 6, 2007, for seven years. She was appointed by the Governor in Council, after consultation with the leader of every recognized party in the Senate and House of Commons. The approval of the appointment was by resolution of the House of Commons and the Senate, all unanimously.
I think the big question for us today is a variation of one you've already tried to address. How does someone who has such an excellent résumé and by all appearances will make an excellent commissioner get into such difficulties?
You commented previously, Madam Fraser, and I want to ask you, in addition to the process, is it possible that this is just too much power in one position? Is that part of the problem?
Could you also please comment on the 360-degree process that might help vet someone in such a powerful position?
As I mentioned, we did not look at the appointment process, and we obviously don't get into motivations. That's something that only the individual can address. The committee may wish to ask if the rigorous process that Mr. Young outlined was respected and followed in this case. I would hope that somebody would go back to look at that to see if anything more could have been done that would have detected something.
The 360-degree process is one whereby we ask employees to assess their managers. It is becoming more and more common in human resource management. We do it on a fairly regular basis—every year, as part of the whole evaluation process. Any employee can go to their supervisor's supervisor, or any other person in the office if they wish, to address this. There are tools that we use so people can respond anonymously about their supervisor. The evaluation is given to the individual's supervisor in our human resource department.
It is all about trying to improve human resource management to detect where there may be problems. Certainly in this case there were indications of issues. When you see a 50% turnover rate--or 18 people out of 22 in a year leave--that is clearly an indication.... I think that's one of the things we'll have to look at.
We've put information into our departmental performance report on the turnover, employee surveys, and the kinds of results. Those are all available.
My second question is somewhat different and is on the process. I'm wondering what due process there was in the investigation your officials conducted. I'm not suggesting that anyone didn't do as they were directed by the legislation, but I'm somewhat uncomfortable with it.
What due process is there for a person being investigated? For example, do they have a right to counsel? Can their counsel get involved, ask questions, and represent them in this process? What are the rules of evidence in this process? What rules are there to prevent any potential conflicts of interest from the people doing the audit and the people being audited?
I'm very uncomfortable with someone going through a process like this without being able to speak or be heard, as they can in court.
Good afternoon everybody.
I knew Ms. Ouimet before I became an MP. I taught her children. They were excellent students, very curious and interested in learning, the type of students that every teacher would like to have in the classroom. As for Ms. Ouimet, she was a person that any teacher would like to have had as one of their student's parents. She was involved in her children's academic progress, as well as in parent-teacher meetings and follow-ups. Like Ms. Buzzetti in Le Devoir, I see that we are talking about a poorly shod shoemaker. Matters of integrity are always extremely sensitive, touchy. Not everyone is brave enough to disclose a wrongdoing and to assume responsibility.
I just about fell off my chair when I read the report. I have to set aside the cordial images that I have with respect to a given situation and think about a commissioner and an office that were given a great deal of authority when created, as a result of Bill C-2. When the Conservatives came into power, following the sponsorship scandal, we wanted to strengthen government accountability to citizens and to its own staff. Even though I feel very badly, I am compelled to continue on that path, in the wake of this report, which I trust. When I read what it says, I wonder whether it is really referring to the same individual. That is an observation.
That being said, one fundamental question remains, as far as I am concerned: Can we still put our trust in this institution, the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner? I ask that question very sincerely, knowing that Ms. Ouimet did not act alone. Within that extremely important office, there were other players, other individuals who worked with her. Mr. Friday, you were one of them. The Auditor General, Ms. Fraser, talked about investigations that were not conducted thoroughly enough. I have some numbers here. We know that, out of 228 complaints, not one was considered. God damn it, that really hurts the office!
Mr. Friday, you are a professional. You worked in this office for two-and-a-half or three years. Was there no way to sound the alarm bells, to kick this hornet's nest when things were not going well and to tell someone about the situation, knowing that you could not talk to the person concerned? The investigation was part of your duties. I am thinking about Mr. Watson, who was one of your colleagues, at least in the beginning. He spent 30 years in the RCMP, which is not negligible. And he wasn't directing traffic after Sunday mass. But he left after one year. So you have to ask some questions.
Mr. Friday, Ms. Fraser talked about some signs that may have been seen here and there. Why did you not tell anybody about the situation earlier?
I would describe the environment of our office, when I arrived, as certainly an intensely focused one, an energized one. People were busy on a number of fronts, even though the act had been in place for almost a year. There was a new act, a new commissioner, a transition from a policy to an independent agent of Parliament, new people, and a new mandate.
The office was in a state of development. Madame Ouimet had a particular vision that she should have, or is entitled to have as Integrity Commissioner, with regard to how she wished to carry out her mandate. She was determining what personnel she wanted to help her support that mandate. It was a rather charged atmosphere.
On top of that we were a very small organization trying to create itself while having to take on files and set itself up as a new organization with all the corporate reporting, financial and human resources as well. That made for an environment in which there was certainly discussion, sometimes tension, debate, and discussion about vision, about focus, and about performance of individuals.
Madame Ouimet was carrying that out in her role as commissioner, which would be appropriate. Within that environment, I did not witness what I thought to be abusive behaviour, for example.
I guess that gets me back to the other point, when we look at the fact that five times the commissioner had come to various committees and had given reports, and when we look back at the situation that occurred with the Privacy Commissioner in 2003 and the process that was involved there, when it looked as though the committee was on top of it....
In the early part of 2003, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates held hearings. That was the time when the committee, citing their loss of confidence in Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski, requested the audits. Shortly afterwards, the Privacy Commissioner resigned. Then we had the appointment of Robert Marleau as the interim commissioner, and then the audit. The Auditor General tabled a special report on the Privacy Commissioner and the public service commissioner tabled the audit on the Privacy Commissioner. It was at that time, then, later in that year, that Madam Stoddart was put in as the Privacy Commissioner.
So here's my question: are there parallels that you see in the situation concerning Mr. Radwanski with regard to the conduct, the behaviour, the mandate, and the actions that we have seen from Madame Ouimet?
Thank you very much, Chair.
Just to pick up where I left off--and I appreciate that you answered some of my questions in there--I want to go back again. I appreciate that in January you're going to meet and come up with recommendations across the board for all the officers of Parliament, but I'm still trying to get a handle on whether any balls were dropped along the way. Were there red flags that went up that should have, as opposed to could have, been noticed?
I've heard that the Treasury Board had a role in their activities. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it would seem that's one area, and maybe you could comment again on that. There was the audit committee and the role there. I mean, this whole business of the commissioner appointing the actual people who are there to sort of provide front-line watchdog services...that may be something that needs to be looked at, not that I'm casting any aspersions on you or the calibre of the work. It's just a question of the optics and the structure. And then there was the parliamentary committee, and the commissioner did report.
I realize we're going to improve it. I'm still trying to get a handle on what went wrong that got us to this point. I still don't feel as though we've really nailed down what happened and why.
Is there something--were there many unions in here? Was there one union? Why was the union not more sensitive to some of this?
On the question of parliamentary committees, there were questions asked in hearings about the lack of investigations and the fact that there were no cases of wrongdoing, but again I think it's very difficult for a parliamentary committee. What can a parliamentary committee do? They could ask, as was the case with Mr. Radwanski, for an audit to be done, but the committee probably needs a fair bit of information before they get there to do that.
So yes, I think we're going to have to really think through what kind of mechanism should exist.
At this moment we are trying to ensure that we are as healthy as possible, and I wanted to reiterate the very sincere view that if there are current or former employees who feel there is an issue they could not bring forward before--and the situation has changed, obviously, with the departure of the former commissioner--that those can be brought forward. If they feel things have been brought forward and not dealt with, we are completely open to considering and working with people to ensure that is the case.
We are also, as I mentioned, undertaking certain internal processes to communicate as clearly as possible to our colleagues that we are committed to rebuilding a healthy workplace.
I would also point to the retention rate, recognizing that it's about 20% this year. I'm not saying that's the goal or the gold standard for retention, but--
I think maybe it's time for Madam Fraser and/or Mr. Friday to just clarify something for the committee.
I think on a couple of occasions, and just recently, Madam Fraser, you indicated that there didn't seem to be a clear process for establishing a mandate. Mr. Friday, I think, in responding to a particular question, talked about an informal process. Madam Fraser, on three separate occasions, indicated that agents of Parliament value their independence and sometimes defend it, and rightly so. But they operate under a mandate that's pretty clear and that people can understand.
Mr. Friday, give us a little bit of confidence that such a mandate does exist formally.
The mandate is set out in our legislation. We exist as one body with two arms of operation. One is the acceptance, review, investigation, and reporting to Parliament of founded cases of wrongdoing. The other is the acceptance, review, and investigation of complaints of reprisal, which can then be referred to the tribunal I mentioned earlier.
That mandate, I think, is clearly set out in the legislation. There are specific practical issues also set out in the legislation. For example, if another process is already under way, we are barred from acting on it. If, for example, in a reprisal case, a complainant has filed a grievance, we cannot act on it. So there's a structure, certainly, within the act, that goes to what we can and can't do, and there are certain procedural issues as well. Also, there are indications in the act, for example, that we are to conduct all our investigations on both reprisals and disclosures as expeditiously and as informally as possible.
That has resulted, in my view, and based on my experience, in a very high number of cases that we do not deal with for any of those reasons. For example, if we feel that the Human Rights Tribunal or the Human Rights Commission would be more appropriate, we would not seek to duplicate the Human Rights Commission's process. Rather, we would respect that and try to avoid duplication of process, expense, and the possibility of conflicting decisions.
And thank you, witnesses, for being a part of today's forum.
Mr. Friday, I'm going to go back to an earlier discussion. Actually I've worked in a small municipal office, and when one has 22 employees, it actually just amazes me, because I can tell you that in an office of 22, very much is known about a lot of things, about a lot of people. It's just the way it is.
What I'm hearing now is that actually that didn't happen. You had 50% of your people quitting for whatever the reason, and flags didn't seem to be flying up. One person is carrying the load here, quite honestly--the commissioner. But having had access to those types of situations...a little more responsibility usually falls beyond just the one person. Did no one speak?
And secondly, though it was a union environment for the employees--to follow up on the Auditor General's comments, did they go to the union? Was the union non-responsive in terms of their queries? If they didn't go to the internal people to say, “Mr. Friday, we've got a problem here, and these are the issues that are coming up”, then did they go to their union? Unions are actually supposed to be there to help support them and to carry on their issues and take their grievances, and all that sort of thing. But quite honestly, in this report I'm not reading about any of that. There has to be some sort of a tie-in. I need to understand whether this person had such an iron thumb or was so dictatorial that actually people were just afraid and they didn't speak.
Secondly, in terms of the guidelines, the three years--and this may go back to the Auditor General, Madam Fraser. We have drafts. Those likely are thought of being in place in some way on a daily basis. Do those guidelines have to be invented? Can the guidelines be brought from other areas within...concerns of departments in terms of how we're going to treat people, how the process is going to work? Would they have had to be invented? Or can they be incorporated and brought in?
Three years, to me, is another issue. I just don't understand that long timeline.
I'll leave those questions because I want to get an answer to them.
I'll start with Mr. Friday, and then to you, Auditor General.
I'm not aware of any formal grievance that was filed in our office.
I can't really speak on behalf of the unions, of the role of the unions. I can say that the unions are a community that we have reached out to and made presentations to. And I can tell you that in some of our investigative work, it is not uncommon for us to have someone who we would be talking to--either making a disclosure or even in the course of an investigation--having union representation.
With respect to internal guidelines on human resources and human resources management, we do have our human resource services provided externally because we are such a small office. We don't have internal capacity. We pay for that and we get good service and we do have access to labour relations experts. We have, for example, the internal conflict management system policy in place that is government-wide and someone who is occupying the role of officer in that regard.
I cannot imagine that providing the date when a complaint was submitted could raise a confidentiality problem. So I am asking you to send us that information, Mr. Friday. If I am not satisfied, we will discuss it again.
Mr. Chair, let me finish with a question for the Auditor General.
We know that the people, as well as the public service, may have serious concerns about the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. At the Canada Revenue Agency, there are also incidents that have to do with companies such as construction firms and so forth.
Considering the way in which things developed with regard to your report, do you agree with me that even today, any employee of the public service would still hesitate to call on the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to indicate things are not working well in the system?
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses.
I'd like to follow up on that one just a little bit. Obviously, when something goes wrong, you try to fix it. I commend you for the actions you've taken, because it is all about people having confidence in public institutions, and you're taking strong action in that direction. I commend you for that.
Moving forward, Mr. Friday, are there clear criteria for what constitutes grounds for an investigation when you get a complaint? Are there clear criteria for that? How many people would look at that to make that judgment? How much objectivity or subjectivity is applied, and do you see changes as a result of what's happened, or just changes to your normal process to what those criteria might be?
We would be guided, Mr. Chair, by the provisions of the act, first and foremost. For example, the wrongdoing must occur within the public sector as defined. The public sector has particular inclusions and exclusions in that definition. For example, the Canadian Forces are not included in the definition, nor is the Canadian Security Establishment or CSIS.
A wrongdoing can come from a member of the public as well. It still must be within the public sector. A reprisal can be made only by a public servant or a former public servant.
The definition of wrongdoing in the act is also a filter, if you will, for us to determine where we can act. Our guidance comes from the act itself. We then have the review function that I explained earlier, including opinions, other information, and guidance that we've developed to guide people through that process.
On the file management and documentation front, which the Auditor General's report has clearly indicated is problematic, we have begun to take steps as well in that regard. Prior to the issuance of the report, we do have documentation standards, timeframes, and clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
I think it's objective, and it has also, Mr. Chair, contributed to a number of different levels. It's not that one person has a file next to another person who has a file and they undergo two different processes. The tracking and review process is consistent.
Mr. Chair, if I can add, this past summer we actually went through a rather extensive process mapping exercise to ensure that the number of times a file is touched by any given person in any given role is both appropriate and adequate, but also will result in as efficient a process as possible.
It's very important for us to do that, as the number of complex investigations increases. We do have some very complex and lengthy investigations under way right now, involving multiple allegations, multiple disclosures, and different types of wrongdoing sometimes within the same file.
The processes are designed to support a timely review, keeping in mind, of course, that we're directed by our act to be as informal and expeditious as possible.
Mr. Chair, since this is an issue of interest to our committee, I would like for us to debate a motion calling on the clerk of the Privy Council and Ms. Ouimet to appear before the committee. There are many questions that have been left unanswered in this matter. It appears that rumours have been started in the hope that the blame will be put on others. We need to hear from these two individuals.
At the start of the meeting, Mr. Young said that we had not ordered them to appear. I believe that the committee should now debate a motion calling on Ms. Ouimet to appear, along with the clerk of the Privy Council, or some other official from the Privy Council Office, at the next meeting of the committee.
We're going to move into the business of the committee as soon as I give the witnesses an opportunity to leave. So you can raise that question. We'll have about 10 minutes to do it.
On behalf of the committee, let me thank the Auditor General and her office, the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commission, and Mr. Nelson from the audit committee for sharing their time with us. It may have appeared to be a little rough for some witnesses, but I'm hoping that none of you will walk away from this thinking that the committee wasn't interested in getting to the bottom of something that would help this committee and other committees in Parliament. I thank you for your responses.
If committee members want to offer season's greetings for all of you, whether it's Christmas or anything else, I do so on behalf of the committee. I'll give them all an opportunity to say that on their own because we're going to suspend for a couple of minutes before we go to business.
Chair, respecting Mr. D'Amours' request, and also not wanting to.... I understand that committees are masters of their own destiny; we have who we want, when we want.
But I'm wondering if it would be appropriate to have our clerk contact the government operations committee as well, so we don't end up completely overlapping and duplicating. Obviously it's an issue they're consumed with as well. We could see where their witness status is. Whether we can either parallel it and/or do it in tandem and/or let testimony come out at one...I'm not sure.
I'm wondering perhaps if between now and Thursday the clerk could ascertain the status of the entire process and the witness list from the government operations committee and report back to us on Thursday. At that point we could make a decision as to who we want, where we want, and when.
That's just a thought. It might be more efficient and effective.
As much as I appreciate the suggestion, Mr. Kramp, regardless of what I believe the other committee is doing, it is clear we have a mandate here. After the report, and as in the discussion we had today, there are a lot of gaps.
You, yourself, said in committee that it would be good to have both of them so we don't have this one-off, “he said, she said”. Regardless of what the government operations committee is doing—and maybe we can work with them—I am of the view that we need to have her appear before the committee.
A lot of the questions that were raised today were focusing on the process, of course, but also on the report. It is definitely within our mandate and I think it should be pursued.
I just have a question about the steering committee and our agenda.
I don't have the agenda here, but we've had a line-up of either reports or...coming forward. I'm just wondering where we are with that and whether the steering committee wouldn't be the appropriate place to consider what's coming up, how that schedule is going to work out, and how we fit in.
I'm not opposed to having her here, if we can find her, and anyone else coming here. I'm just trying to understand the process with the steering committee and what we have on the docket. That's all, Mr. Chairman.
So I would say that maybe it should go to a steering committee. I don't know when you meet, whether it's tomorrow or whatever day it is, but that might be the appropriate place.
Thank you, Mr. Shipley.
This committee had already accepted the steering committee's tentative agenda for discussions when we come back. I say “tentative”, because if we didn't have something else, we would make a decision to go with what was put on the table.
What is being proposed now, from what I gather—and I don't know whether Mr. D'Amours is quoting Mr. Young accurately—is the suggestion from last week that if people aren't responsive, they can be directed to come here. I don't want to use stronger language, but when they receive an invitation from the committee, the chair, on behalf of the committee, can say very, very strongly, “Show up.”
So you don't need a steering committee to make a decision on whether you're all in agreement. It appears that everybody is in agreement. You just have to say, “Yeah, make that effort”, and we'll make that effort again.
Well, I don't think that's our intention with the Clerk of the Privy Council. He gave us a very reasonable response. He said, “I'd like to come. I'm in cabinet, and I can't be in two places at once.” If he's not in cabinet the next session, that rationale doesn't arise.
So what do we do, other than to say, “Look, we'd like you to come. Thanks for saying you wanted to come. Are you available now?”
With respect to Madam Ouimet, she hasn't responded to two requests. The language can be as strong as required to indicate to her that she can't be in contempt of a committee of Parliament. You don't have to be threatening. You just have to be able to say, “Here are the facts of life. You know what they are.”
An hon. member: [Inaudible--Editor]
The Chair: Well, we won't know unless we go ahead. We have an address for her. No, actually we have a phone number for her, and we can go from there. I can't imagine that we don't have an address for her, as she's in receipt of a whole series of things.
I'm just interpreting what you're all telling me, that there's a sense that you want to do this.
I've been listening carefully, because we've never undertaken these kinds of things lightly, including holding a second hearing, and particularly doing something that ultimately leads to what is tantamount to a subpoena. We want to do these things very carefully, very rarely, and cautiously.
I have to tell you, though, given the fact that the former commissioner doesn't agree with the audit and says it's wrong, given the fact that this is not just any position—and it's not just any deputy position for that matter—but we're talking about an officer of Parliament, whose role is to be a safe place to go to when there's wrongdoing, it seems to me that we are entirely justified in pursuing this further with her. I think you're right that everybody is in agreement on that.
My concern is that if we don't immediately give you, Chair, the authority to recommend to the House that we take the ultimate action to have the witness appear, then we're going to be back here again in six or eight weeks in exactly the same position. That's my concern, that if we don't bite the bullet now and give the authority for the big stick, if you will, to be used, then what will happen is you will get enough weeks under your belt, water will go under the bridge and new issues will come along, and then slowly it will drift away. The fact that the person is an officer of Parliament is the thing that really, really resonates with me. There really is no higher position, other than having oneself elected to a seat in that House.
So I'm in favour of what's being talked about. I don't like the idea that someone who is appointed as a commissioner, with that kind of money, can just cut and run and hide, and not be accountable at the end of the day, at least once, for what went on when they were given that kind of power and authority and paid that kind of money. The Canadian people at least deserve to hear what went on there, particularly when the commissioner wants to just rush off and say, “I disagree with the report, it's not right” or—I don't know, as I haven't heard the words—“It's not fair”, and then run away and hide. That just doesn't work.
Right. Thank you, Mr. Christopherson.
I'm going to take this as an indication that the committee wants the chair to issue a letter to get her here as quickly as possible, and that the discretion rests with the chair to get, I think your language suggested, Parliament or the House to do that.
But I think there are a couple of steps first, and I'm going to take it that everybody agrees that the chair should at least go through the first one and say, “You're coming.” Okay?
Some hon. members: Thank you.
The Chair: I'm sorry, Mr. Young, but we're already past our time.