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Results: 1 - 15 of 257
View Pat Martin Profile
NDP (MB)
View Pat Martin Profile
2015-03-26 8:46
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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the 44th meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. We are convened today to deal with the certificate of nomination of Mr. Joe Friday to the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, referred to this committee on Monday, March 23, 2015.
We are pleased to have Mr. Friday here with us for this formal vetting process. I'd like to say at the outset before Mr. Friday begins his remarks that he did send a letter to the committee, which committee members will have seen, to explain why he was unable to attend a week or so ago when we were interested in calling him to speak to the committee when he was nominated as the interim commissioner.
We got the letter, Mr. Friday. We understand fully, and we accept your apology and explanation. The committee understands completely.
Having said that, we only have one hour to deal with this, ladies and gentlemen, so we will be trying to keep the questions very tight with five-minute rounds for the questions and answers. At 9:40 I will ask for the question to be put so that we can make the report to the House of Commons in routine proceedings, which will begin at 10 o'clock.
Having said that, let's welcome Mr. Friday and ask him to please make his opening remarks.
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Joe Friday
View Joe Friday Profile
Joe Friday
2015-03-26 8:48
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
And thank you to all committee members.
Mr. Chair, thank you for acknowledging receipt of my letter of March 13. Again, I do apologize to you and all committee members and assure you of my ongoing respect for your committee and my absolute understanding of my obligation to appear before you.
I am deeply honoured that the Prime Minister chose to nominate me to the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, further to a publicly advertised process initiated last year.
The position of commissioner is that of an agent of Parliament, one of a small number of oversight offices that exercise important and sensitive functions in the federal public administration, functions that require objectivity, neutrality, and independence.
I fully understand the importance of the role of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, and if appointed, I would bring all of my experience, skills and commitment to this position.
I would also like to point out that I fully understand that, as an agent of Parliament, I would be directly accountable to Parliament.
Our office was created in 2007 under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act as part of the federal government's accountability initiative. The office provides a safe and confidential mechanism for public servants and for members of the public to disclose wrongdoing committed in the federal public sector. The act also helps protect from reprisal public servants who have disclosed wrongdoing and those who have cooperated in investigations.
The position of commissioner plays a central role in the accountability framework for the federal public sector. It represents a commitment to excellence in public service and, increasingly, it forms part of the identity of Canada in the world as a trusted leader in good government and good governance.
If my appointment is approved, my commitment will be to represent the public interest in carrying out the important and sensitive duties of the commissioner, reporting directly to Parliament, as all agents do.
Over the past seven years at the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, first as general counsel, then as deputy commissioner, and since January 1 of this year, as interim commissioner, I have gained a clear and in-depth understanding of the structure and operation of our disclosure and reprisal protection regime, in other words, the whistle-blower protection regime.
I also understand the importance of emphasizing and demonstrating the trust that Canadians have in public institutions and their public service, including the need to work on keeping and strengthening that trust. In order to meet these objectives, it is essential to use discretion, be familiar with how the public sector operates and take an objective and balanced approach when making decisions on key issues.
I understand that it can be extremely difficult for people to come forward when they have witnessed what they think is wrongdoing. I understand that reprisal can take many forms and requires a direct and clear response to not only address an individual situation effectively but also to discourage it from happening in the future. I also understand that all parties, including those accused of having committed wrongdoing or reprisal, have the right to be treated with fairness and justice.
Working as an independent decision maker, the commissioner has a very demanding role. Many aspects of the role still have to be defined as they relate to the disclosure of wrongdoing. The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner must be able to manage expectations and perceptions using diplomacy and judgment. That being said, I know that, by continuing to work toward the objectives of accessibility, clarity and consistency, the office will be able to deal with wrongdoing and complaints of reprisal and thus help strengthen the public service.
It has been eight years since the office was created. We've had many tangible successes in those eight years in the tabling of case reports, the referral of reprisal cases to the tribunal that was specifically created in our legislation to determine and rule upon these cases, and in the conciliation of some of those cases. We've also had success in our sustained outreach to inform Canadians about our existence and mandate.
The true measure of our success in many ways is that we treat each case fairly, rendering decisions on issues of significant public interest and importance in a just and equitable manner and in accordance with our act.
If my nomination is approved, I intend to follow the example of my predecessor, under whose leadership I am proud to have helped lay a solid foundation for the rigorous operational policies and methods we have in place today. I will continue to be guided by and build on that success.
My priorities are grouped under the principles I've just mentioned: accessibility, clarity, and consistency. These principles, while distinct, are intrinsically linked. Accessibility, which is linked to awareness and knowledge, is a priority that I believe will be a permanent one for us. It is a goal and a challenge that is shared by our colleagues in the provinces and the territories with whom I meet on a regular basis, and it is shared by our international counterparts, many of whom I'm also in ongoing communication with.
In simple terms, this principle means that people need to know who we are and where to find us when they need us. They need to understand that, by law, they can choose to make disclosures within their department or to come to us. They also need to be aware of what we can and cannot do for them when they come to our office. We have to keep working on raising people's awareness, providing them with clear information and reassuring them.
Further in this regard, I'll also focus on the continuing challenge of ensuring that our work is informed by other relevant perspectives and opinions. Our external advisory committee, started in 2011, will continue. It provides us with essential external points of view and it allows us to be aware of the influence and effects of our actions. In this regard, an increased focus on the input and views of federal unions will be a priority for me as chair of this committee.
Looking to the internal operations of our office, we're in a position to take stock of our considerable experience and build on the lessons we have learned to date, including guidance from the courts. To that end, I have focused on making progress on our internal policy-making process, bringing together our operations, legal, and policy teams to produce directives to guide operations more directly and more strategically, and also to provide potential users of our regime with clarity on our interpretation and application of the law. We want people to make informed choices about coming to our office. Knowing what to expect is a key part of that.
This builds on our work in recent years in creating and publicizing service standards. These are timelines that we've imposed on ourselves to complete initial analyses of files and also to complete investigations.
Mr. Chair, I will also continue to place great importance on the standards of professionalism and excellence that our staff are expected to uphold. Our job is difficult, but our team, though relatively small, is stronger than ever. When it comes to recruitment, we have demonstrated rigour and strategic vision. I have learned that, for a small organization like ours, it can be extremely complicated to attract and retain the right people.
Eight years in, our workload seems to have stabilized, even though we have no control over the frequency, number or type of disclosures. By now, we have shown that we can accomplish our work within the constraints of our existing budget. We are finally ready to undertake the statutory five-year review of the legislation, and when that review begins, we will be pleased to submit the observations and suggestions that have arisen from our work to date, thereby contributing to potential changes to the system.
Generally speaking, as we continue to prepare for this review, I can say that our focus will be on improving confidentiality protection and providing support to complainants of reprisal in an effort to allow them to access the full benefit of the protection under the law. I would say with confidence that our act is working, but I would also say that it can work better. It is the responsibility of any commissioner to ensure that it is working to its full capacity and potential.
Our work requires a thorough understanding of the federal public service, its activities and, indeed, its culture. I am confident that my 22 years of experience within the federal administration will be critically important to the performance of the duties and functions of commissioner under the act.
I have proven my objectivity and my independence in the context of my work for the commissioner's office to date, particularly when I was called upon to act as a decision-making authority in founded cases of wrongdoing. I am relying on that experience, my judgment and my legal training to guide me in carrying out the role of commissioner.
I'm asking you to place your trust in me and to allow me and my capable, dedicated, and experienced team to fully implement the act over the next seven years in supporting the goal of accountability in the federal public sector.
I wish to underscore that the vast majority of public servants serve Canadians with integrity and an honourable sense of service. My goal as commissioner would be to ensure that Canada's proud tradition of public service not only continues, but that it is also strengthened and exemplified by the highest degree of respect for and compliance with standards of integrity, professionalism, and respect.
Thank you for considering my nomination, Mr. Chair.
It would be my pleasure to answer any questions the committee may have for me at this time.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-26 8:58
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to begin by informing Canadians why we're meeting this early. One of the reasons we're meeting this early—it's not the regular time—is that the government attempted to circumvent this committee's responsibility to vet your nomination by trying to get this done via routine proceedings in the House, which is in a few hours, which is just a farce. It's complete contempt for the committee's responsibility in vetting you, but I know that's not your fault, Mr. Friday, and I'm happy that you're here. I also wanted to thank you for your written apology about what happened last week.
You are largely perceived by experts in this area—particularly when it comes to whistle-blowing and because of your kind of uncritical comments of the Ouimet era in your office—as an insider. What can you say to Canadians and their concerns that yet another insider is being named to this position, which won't significantly improve the possibility for integrity to be upheld in the public sector?
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Joe Friday
View Joe Friday Profile
Joe Friday
2015-03-26 8:59
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Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the question.
I believe that a profound understanding of the public sector is necessary to fulfill the duties of the Commissioner of Public Sector Integrity. This is the domain in which we work. This is the structure within which we investigate and within which we make recommendations for corrective action.
I have 22 years of experience in the federal public sector. I am proud of those 22 years. With respect to being an insider, I can say that I have only worked at one department, and that's the Department of Justice. I was there for 15 years. I have no preconceptions, no biases, no prejudices with respect to any party, to any file, at any level within the federal public service—
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-26 9:00
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Thank you for that, Mr. Friday.
Maybe what would help is to indicate what solutions you might have. There are only 50 complaints presently. Monsieur Dion said when he stepped down that, compared to the hundreds of thousands of employees in the public sector, this is just bizarre. It sends the message that this is just a symbolic function, that fundamentally there isn't much, or that people who are working in the public sector don't have the confidence in your office to come forward. I've heard that by whistle-blowers and I've heard that by experts.
What are you going to do to change that situation?
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Joe Friday
View Joe Friday Profile
Joe Friday
2015-03-26 9:01
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I would say that in order to understand the whistle-blowing regime, one must look at the role we play as an external investigator. There's also an internal regime that is administered by the Treasury Board. I will only be able to speak, of course, about our external regime.
My starting point is that the vast majority of public servants serve honestly and with integrity. When we look at the numbers of public servants and the numbers that we have, there is a success rate or reporting rate of about 3%. So 3% of disclosures resulted in a founded case of wrongdoing.
My most recent understanding of the statistics in the United States, for example, is that they have about a 2% finding rate. I don't know if that's at all helpful in providing some further—
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-26 9:02
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It's some context, but what is wrong with the legislation?
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Joe Friday
View Joe Friday Profile
Joe Friday
2015-03-26 9:02
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I think part of the ongoing challenge that we face—and this is largely cultural—is that I don't know if a single piece of legislation can change this, given the discussions I have on a regular basis with the administrators and managers of whistle-blowing regimes in other countries and other provinces and territories.
The issue is one of having trust in an organization to deal with a complaint or a disclosure in a open, fair, and confidential way.
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View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
NDP (QC)
View Mathieu Ravignat Profile
2015-03-26 9:03
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How are you going to address that lack of trust?
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Joe Friday
View Joe Friday Profile
Joe Friday
2015-03-26 9:03
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We have a strong focus on reaching out to public servants. They are our prime stakeholders. For example, just before Christmas we released a video that we're quite proud of, explaining to potential whistle-blowers what their options are, what their rights are. We have been instituting, since January, a new way to reach out to deal with public servants at all levels, using people at all levels within our organization. I really think that our ability to respond to people is best represented by our work. The case reports we have, the referrals we make to the tribunal, the conciliations we're able to demonstrate are very helpful.
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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
View Chris Warkentin Profile
2015-03-26 9:03
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Friday, I do appreciate your attending this morning. We certainly appreciate this opportunity.
Unlike Mr. Ravignat, I can guarantee that there would be no reference to the House had this hearing not happened, and so we appreciate all parties' efforts to make this happen so that this nomination can proceed to the House in due course. We do appreciate your coming here, Mr. Friday, and your explanations as to why you were unavailable the other day.
We know that the office to which you are being called is one that's a high priority for our government. We believe strongly in the office, obviously. We have undertaken to see the legislation and to see the office created. We believe it plays an important role in terms of transparency and accountability for all Canadians.
There is a real sense that communication is important when somebody's coming to your office, obviously. You've talked a little bit about the necessity that somebody who's coming to your office knows what to expect. I think there are sometimes reservations in going to any office if there isn't a real sense as to what they can expect once they go.
There seems to be maybe a little bit of misunderstanding about what your office can do versus a resolution that could be undertaken through the Treasury Board process or through even possibly a union resolution process.
Could you explain briefly how you see your role as different from some of the other resolution processes, the office that you hold, and how you can better explain it to people in the civil service who might be looking for a resolution to a concern they do have?
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Joe Friday
View Joe Friday Profile
Joe Friday
2015-03-26 9:05
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Certainly, Mr. Chair.
I would say that one reason we have so many cases that we do not deal with is that we are not the right place to come to. We have great discretion under our act to direct people to the appropriate place. People come to us thinking, for example, that we might be one of the other agents of Parliament, or that we are the Auditor General, or that we are the Public Service Commission. It really is our responsibility to clarify who we are, but also who we are not.
The role we play is also that of an independent, neutral agent. We do not represent whistle-blowers. I'd like to say that we advocate on behalf of whistle-blowing; we don't advocate on behalf of individual whistle-blowers. We don't represent a party. That is a surprisingly challenging message for us to get across, but we are consistent in the clarity of our communications with disclosers, potential or real, with complainants, potential or actual, of what we can and can't do for them.
I would also point out an interesting feature of our legislation is that we actually provide money to parties coming forward to allow them to seek legal counsel, to get some legal advice. Clarity in our dealing with each and every case, and dealing with each and every case in all its complexity under the restrictions of our law, is a key priority. It defines both the operational obligation we have and the operational challenge we have.
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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
View Chris Warkentin Profile
2015-03-26 9:07
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As commissioner, you play an important role not only as a commissioner in terms of head communicator or a leader in terms of your office, but you're an employer, and you're so many more things with other roles within the office. Obviously, as the commissioner, you play a number of different roles. You have quite the experience. It's very impressive.
Could you explain to us how some of those experiences contribute to your being prepared for the different positions that being a commissioner require of you? You've served in that capacity for a little while now. Now, if you're made a permanent commissioner, you'll continue in those roles. Could you speak just a little bit about the past experiences and how they play an important role in those different roles?
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Joe Friday
View Joe Friday Profile
Joe Friday
2015-03-26 9:08
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Certainly, Mr. Chair.
I will start answering the question by saying that we have had our challenges within the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commission. What I have been able to demonstrate, and will continue to demonstrate, is a perseverance and a resilience and the ability to focus on success and to follow my strong, unshakable, belief in the value of the role of our office, with a commitment to lead it to success. I do that bringing the benefit of my managerial, legal, and operational experience to the position. I have a particularly strong background in the area of alternative dispute resolution. It's extremely important operationally, given that we have conciliation powers under our act, but it also provides me with a particularly collaborative approach to management, to development of the office, to development of people within the office, and to communications about our office. My training as a lawyer, I think, has given me the neutrality and objectivity that is essential.
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View Tarik Brahmi Profile
NDP (QC)
View Tarik Brahmi Profile
2015-03-26 9:10
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Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Friday, you mentioned in your opening remarks that many aspects of the role still have to be defined as they relate to the disclosure of wrongdoing. Could you give us an example of the most pressing elements that have yet to be defined?
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