Federal Accountability Act

Blowing the Whistle on Bill C-2

On May 16, 2006, President Michèle Demers appeared as a witness before the House of Commons Legislative Committee on Bill C-2 (Federal Accountability Act) to present the Institute's views regarding the proposed legislation. The Institute, having represented the interests of employees in the federal public service for more than 85 years, is well-positioned to speak on this issue.

Accountability is the hallmark of professionals. Through their associations, societies and colleges, our members adhere to a code of ethics independent of their roles in the public service. These ethics sometimes force them to make difficult decisions when faced with situations in their work where wrongdoing may be present. Yet, it is this characteristic of professionalism on which the government and Canadians depend to ensure the efficacy and security of the programs and services on which they rely.

(Excerpt from PIPSC’s brief to the Committee on Bill C-2)

Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, is omnibus legislation aimed at meeting commitments made during the last federal election campaign. As such, it is far-reaching and ambitious.

There are many aspects of this legislation the Institute welcomes. Improvements to protections for whistleblowers are chief among them. However, there are still some areas of concern where we question the impact of this legislation on our members.

Among the changes, the Institute has been seeking clarity on the role of the new Parliamentary Budget Officer and emphasizes the need to make the financial information provided to parliamentarians available to bargaining agents and the public at large.

Also, there are the changes to procedures for procurement which will undoubtedly have an impact on the thousands of PIPSC members directly involved in the process of government procurement. The Institute welcomes all measures that improve the transparency and reliability of these systems but must ensure that our members and their knowledge and experience are not overlooked.

Finally, the Institute's primary area of focus with respect to Bill C-2 must be the amendments to the legislative regime for the protection of whistleblowers. While the Institute supports many changes, we must point out that including these amendments in such a wide-ranging and ambitious piece of legislation as the Federal Accountability Act can only serve to delay their implementation. For more than 15 years PIPSC has worked for legislative protections for whistleblowers. In November 2005, Bill C-11, The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act received Royal Assent after being passed unanimously by the House of Commons and Senate, yet remains unproclaimed and without effect. The Federal Accountability Act seeks to amend Bill C-11 before its proclamation while our members sit without the protections of either Act.

The Institute raised these concerns:

  • The Public Sector Integrity Commissioner must have the ability to order Chief Executives to correct wrongdoing in addition to bringing wrongdoing to the attention of Parliament.
  • Rather than creating a new entity called the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal to hear complaints of reprisal, the Institute recommends that the Public Service Labour Relations Board be vested with the authority to deal with complaints of reprisals and be given the necessary resources to fulfill that role.
  • There is a lack of an explicit role for bargaining agents in Bill C-2. For purposes of clarity, the Institute recommends the following amendment: "Nothing in Bill C-2 is to be interpreted so as to limit the right of employees to be represented by their bargaining agent at any time during the processes contained within this Act."
  • Access to legal counsel should include representation, not just advice. The spending limits of $1500 and $3000 should be adjusted accordingly.
  • No rewards. The Institute survey on values and ethics reported that attaching a reward to disclosures would greatly undermine the credibility and motivation of the whistleblower.
  • Delaying the proclamation of Bill C-11. Public service employees have waited too long for legislated protections. The Institute and eleven other unions issued a joint news release asking for Bill C-11 to be proclaimed immediately. Improvements to this legislation could be made with the implementation of Bill C-2.

By far the main area of concern the Federal Accountability Act poses for the Institute is the delay this strategy represents in seeing protections for whistleblowers put in place. The argument that the Government does not want to put in place one regime only to replace it with another does not stand up to scrutiny as there are few real structural differences between the two, with the exception of the Tribunal. In reality, this difference is inconsequential. Bill C-2 is an ambitious omnibus legislation and should not stand in the way of the long-awaited protections for our members who need to disclose wrongdoing in government. The government should proclaim Bill C-11 and amend it once the Federal Accountability Act comes into force.

The brief to the parliamentary committee is available at www.pipsc.ca under Government Affairs. For more information, please contact Francine Pressault, Media and Government Relations Officer, at fpressault@pipsc.ca.

Publish Date: 12-OCT-2006 08:41 AM