Citizens groups: Integrity Commissioner's severance pay package must be cancelled

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OTTAWA - Today, an alliance of more than 30 accountability organizations called on the Public Accounts Committee to pass a resolution recommending, and the government to follow through on, the cancellation of the reported $500,000-plus secret severance pay package offered by the government to former disgraced Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet.

Severance is given to people who are fired (at an average rate in Canada of one to two weeks'pay for each year served)-- severance pay offs are not usually offered to people who retire or resign like Ms. Ouimet did, especially when clear evidence exists of failing to do their job properly (Ms. Ouimet was found by the Auditor General in a November report to have not done her job properly in many ways).

The Committee should require the government officials who negotiated the deal to testify, and also question the government on whether a similar secret package was offered 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.

David Hutton, Executive Director of FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform),a whistleblower charity that has studied the legislation and monitored its implementation since 2007, observed: 

"The government has generously rewarded Christiane Ouimet, the senior official whose serious misconduct for three years undermined efforts to combat misconduct within the public service, and then hid this controversial settlement and secretly gagged both itself and Ouimet, apparently in an effort to prevent the full facts from emerging. It is still refusing even to promise meaningful action to fix its discredited whistleblower protection system. This
government seems 'soft on crime' when there's misconduct in high places, careless with taxpayers dollars, and unconcerned about its broken promise to protect honest public servants from reprisals by corrupt bosses."

As well, the alliance called on a House committee to follow-up on Ms. Ouimet's testimony on Thursday by calling Interim Commissioner Mario Dion to explain why he contacted the Privy Council Office and shared information about staffing and other situations, actions aimed at protecting the Clerk of the Privy Council.

"Mario Dion's actions neatly illustrate the hazards of appointing Ottawa insiders as Parliamentary watchdogs. However well-intentioned they might be, their instincts and loyalties are the product of the environment. This can only be overcome with more rigorous appointment processes and more vigilant oversight by Parliament," said Ian Bron, Secretary of Canadians for Accountability. (To see the list of needed reforms, click here).

In addition, the alliance called on a House committee to follow up on the letter seven Officers of Parliament recently sent to the House urging stronger parliamentary reviews of their appointments and performance.

As suggested in the letter, a House Committee must require federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson (who didn't sign the letter) and Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd (who did) to provide details and testify about their enforcement records since they began their jobs three to four years ago.

Both commissioners' annual reports provide far less detail than the annual reports of the former disgraced Integrity Commissioner, as they have not disclosed how many complaints and cases they have had since starting their jobs, nor how they have addressed each complaint. 

Available evidence points to both commissioners sitting on at least 50 cases each, and letting at least 20 people off the hook with secret rulings.

"The federal ethics and lobbying commissioners have been disclosing less information about complaints they have received and how they have ruled in the past few years than the former disgraced integrity commissioner disclosed, and the available information shows a pattern of sitting on cases and letting most people off the hook in secret," 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.

"A House committee and the Auditor General must require these two commissioners to provide details about their complaint handling so that the full extent of their weak enforcement records is made public."

The alliance will continue to push for all these actions and changes until federal political parties finally correct the many flaws in the current good government system.

To read this news release with links to related documents, click here.


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