Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I have prepared some opening remarks. I guess the main purpose is to situate some of the subject matter currently being looked at in the Office of Public Sector Integrity.
I am very honoured that the Prime Minister proposed appointing me to the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner as the result of an advertised process held this summer. As you know, the incumbent of this position is an agent of Parliament, and that is why I am here this afternoon: to give honourable members an opportunity to consider me for the position, to answer their questions and to see if they are willing to place their trust in me.
The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was created in 2007 under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. The Office provides a safe and confidential mechanism enabling public servants and members of the public to disclose wrongdoings committed in the federal public sector. The act protects from reprisal public servants who have disclosed wrongdoing and those who have cooperated in investigations.
If my appointment is approved, my allegiance will be to Parliament and I will execute my duties of implementing the act in a completely independent and objective manner. In fact, I will continue to approach my work in the same way I have since becoming the interim commissioner exactly one year ago. This is essential, not only because the act so decrees, but also to inspire trust among those who do witness wrongdoings and who must make a difficult decision as to whether to blow the whistle. I strongly believe in the objectives of the act expressed in its preamble and I fully intend to be a key actor in giving life to its provisions in the manner intended by Parliament.
In fact, it has been only four years since the office was created as a result of the Accountability Act. It has already processed a few hundred files, but its existence, its role and the inherent limitations of its powers are not yet very well known, both within the public sector and by Canadians at large. In addition, its credibility was seriously undermined last December when the Auditor General's report was published, describing the office as being inadequately organized and questioning the reliability of its decision-making processes.
As interim commissioner over the last 12 months, I think I have taken appropriate steps to increase the office's effectiveness and thus improve its image and especially its credibility. I have taken on three essential priorities in order to re-establish harmony in the office and to cultivate its credibility.
There was a lot of doubt about the validity of the work that had been done since 2007, so the first priority was to seek a third-party review of all the files--the 228 files that had been concluded by my predecessor--to have them reviewed quickly by a completely independent body to determine whether there were some deficiencies. If there were deficiencies, I would then be authorized to have a new look at the decisions made by my predecessor. We retained Deloitte to review those files and gave them a deadline of March 31 to complete the review. They did, and it had to be done not only rigorously but quickly. They confirmed to me at that time that one third of the files contained some deficiencies that needed to be rectified. We kept the complainants and disclosers informed throughout the process and clearly explained to them why their files would be or would not be the subject of a review.
Deloitte found 70 files that had some degree of deficiency, and I have now made decisions based upon which six full-fledged investigations out of these files will be conducted. Seventeen files that were previously closed without any further action will be re-evaluated for their admissibility under the act. I believe that within the next six months all of these files will be concluded one way or another: with a case report being filed if there's a case of wrongdoing, with a case being referred to a tribunal, or with the conclusion being reached that allegations are not founded.
This is what I've referred to simply as the cleanup operation, which we had to undertake a year or so ago because of the doubt that was cast by the AG report of December 2010.
The second priority was to staff in a permanent fashion. There were many vacant positions when I became the interim commissioner. Several individuals were on secondment or on temporary assignments, so I had to evaluate each and every one who was there and determine who would stay and who would go elsewhere, and then staff the positions. We did that. We also created some key management tools that until that point had not existed. We have now implemented a modern management structure defining the responsibilities of each staff member at every stage of the process. The AG had said the office was not properly organized, so I focused on organizing the office.
On March 31, 2011, we adopted a policy and procedures manual, building on the work that had been done by my predecessor but completing it, polishing it, and making sure that it was adequate to guide the staff in the execution of their duties. We also created an approach to training incoming staff. We have more than doubled within the existing budget the number of staff directly involved in case analysis and investigations by realigning resources and making full use of our salary budget.
We've also explored a number of alternative approaches to reducing red tape and streamlining our process. We're making full use of a recently revamped case management system, which allows the deputy commissioner and me to track the progress of each file in real time.
I am pleased to report that, in spite of a marked increase in incoming cases over the last year, we did not accumulate a backlog. We are constantly improving towards our goal of completing the analysis of incoming cases according to newly adopted service standards, which require that admissibility reviews be completed within 45 days in the case of disclosures of wrongdoing, in addition to meeting the statutorily mandated 15 days applicable to allegations of reprisal. So that was our second priority, which focused on solidifying the capacity to deal with cases by fully staffing the office with qualified individuals, while remaining within budget.
The third priority was to re-establish dialogue with our key partners. To that end, I have established a permanent advisory committee that includes three NGOs directly interested in the work of our office: FAIR; Accountability for Canadians; and Democracy Watch. The committee also includes the presidents of the two largest public service unions, Public Service Alliance of Canada and Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, as well as representatives from the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada, or APEX, the Treasury Board Secretariat, and the tribunal created under the act in order to review cases of reprisal.
I am convinced that the dialogue with our partners is now reopened and that the quarterly meetings will ensure ongoing consultation and feedback on a number of important issues such as the development of policies to guide decision-making. The committee will be asked to contribute to the development of these policies from start to finish.
Our greatest challenge continues to be how to respond to criticism that no case of wrongdoing has yet been the subject of a case report to Parliament and that too few cases have been referred to the tribunal.
That's the number one criticism. We have yet to file a case report in Parliament about a well-founded case of wrongdoing.
At this stage, what I can say is that we have 115 files currently active, 35 of which are the subject of an in-depth investigation as we speak, which is two and a half times more investigations than there were back in December 2010.
My role is not to prejudge, of course, the outcome of an investigation. The Commissioner of Public Sector Integrity is a decision-maker who must rely on findings as they come up in the results of an investigation. But I think, mathematically, that it is quite fair to suggest that out of those 35 investigations, something will come out in the near future.
My role, as an independent officer of Parliament, is not to achieve a certain quota, but to investigate and determine the validity of each case. I must analyze each case objectively, draw a conclusion and take the appropriate steps under the law.
As are critics, I am very impatient to be able to submit valid cases to the attention of Parliament. We have already referred two cases to the tribunal on public servant protection, and I'm very impatient to refer more, but they have to be validated under the act. This is my obligation, and I intend to carry it out if my appointment is approved.
I'm convinced that my extensive experience in the federal justice sector will continue to help me with the type of leadership I hope to provide to the office. Frankly, I completely believe in the mission conferred on us by the act. I fully appreciate the importance and the potential of the office. I know that I will be able to process cases objectively by applying a number of past experiences, including my legal training, which is quite relevant to the exercise of these duties.
I would like to assure you that there is no risk that my knowledge of the federal administration will make me partial to senior management. Rather, it has given me knowledge of the culture in which the alleged acts could have taken place. I ask you to place your trust in me and to allow me and my team to fully implement the act over the next seven years.
If Parliament approves my appointment, I intend to pursue a number of key priorities that are consistent with and in furtherance of the same objectives: accessibility--to our office, real accessibility is key; competence--and I've already addressed some of the steps we've taken to increase the competence with which we carry out our mandate; and accountability to Parliament.
I have already alluded to my determination to develop policies to guide decision-making by the commissioner in order to demystify how and why decisions are made, and to inform the general public about the act, which currently is not well known. Considering how difficult it is to come forward and blow the whistle, I will also be looking at concrete ways to better assist in a true and practical fashion public servants and members of the public who are reflecting on whether they wish to avail themselves of the avenues provided by the act.
In conclusion, I am confident that by learning the lessons of the past and implementing more concrete steps, we will finally succeed in providing what Parliament first anticipated back in 2007.
Thank you very much for your attention, Mr. Chairman. I would be pleased to answer any questions your colleagues may have for me.
Thank you, Mr. Dion.
The next round is the NDP's round, but I have asked to share a couple of minutes, as the chair's prerogative, because I will confess a particular interest in this matter. In fact, over ten years ago my dear friend, the late Reg Alcock, and I worked on this very committee in trying to form Bill .
My concern now, Mr. Dion, is that I was on the committee when Christiane Ouimet sat where you're sitting now, and she sounded pretty good too. We all approved her with some enthusiasm. In actual fact, we failed whistle-blowers profoundly. I mean, as much courage as it takes to be a whistle-blower...we promised them a safe place and we failed them, and it infuriates me, having been dedicated to this issue for as long as I have.
I have a letter here that was written to me by a former integrity commissioner, Mr. Keyserlingk. He says, “...I am frankly appalled about the government appointment yesterday...”--this was a year ago--“of Mario Dion as interim PSIC...”. Nothing to denigrate the qualifications of Monsieur Dion, he says, but he believes that once again we have appointed a senior manager, a deputy minister from the public service, and in a six-page letter he goes on to explain why that is a disastrous idea.
The only empirical evidence and the only actual experience we have of appointing a senior public servant to this position has been a catastrophic failure, and may have poisoned the well for a generation of public servants. Because who would come forward now? Let's say you're lying awake at night as a public servant who has some knowledge of some wrongdoing and asking, “Should I risk my family's future and my income by coming forward and telling my story, or should I just zip up, shut up, and stay quiet?” They look at what happened to those 220 or 230 people who did come forward--they got screwed--and if I were a public servant, my conclusion would be “I think I'd better just shut up, keep doing my job, and let this wrongdoing continue”.
It may take a generation before public servants can actually trust your office.
I know that's more of a comment than a question, but I am really, really concerned that we're ignoring the advice of a former integrity commissioner, even though I have no problem with your qualifications or your integrity as a person, and I'm sure you were an excellent public servant. Maybe it's just a serious mistake to appoint a senior public servant. I mean, those are your friends who you have to rat out. If somebody comes to you and says he knows a deputy minister over there in the Department of Justice who is taking the car home on weekends, that's the guy you used to work with.