Accountability Act falls short of Harper campaign rhetoric

Improvements welcome but legislation may not go far enough, critics say


Ottawa (12 April 2006) - Canada's new Conservative government introduced its much-touted Federal Accountability Act Tuesday, claiming it will "put an end to the influence of money" in national politics and protect public employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing in their workplaces.

Critics generally welcomed the bill but said it falls short of Tory election rhetoric and fails to apply the same broom to its Tory authors that it does to former Liberal ministers and staff members.

The government says the legislation, if passed, will protect whistleblowers in the following ways. It will:

(a) establish a Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal and empower it to make remedial orders in favour of victims of reprisal, and to order disciplinary action against the person or persons responsible for the reprisal;

(b) provide for the protection of all Canadians, not just public servants, who report government wrongdoings to a Public Sector Integrity Commissioner;

(c) remove the cabinet's ability to exempt crown corporations and other public bodies from the scope of the legislation;

(d) require the prompt public reporting by chief executives, and by the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, of cases of wrongdoing;

(e) permit the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to provide access to legal advice relating to the legislation; and

(f) authorize the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to make awards to persons who have shown courage in defending the public interest by reporting wrongdoings.

$1,000 reward for whistleblowers

Public-sector employees who expose wrongdoing would be eligible for a "recognition award" of as much as $1,000.

The legislation will also change how political parties raise funds by banning secret donations and those by corporations, trade unions and associations. Individual donations would be capped at $1,000. The current limit is $5,000. It would also make it an offence to give or receive a cash donation of more than $20.

Opposition critics said many of the changes are positive. However, they accused the Conservatives of opting for "selective accountability" by preventing former ministers and government officials from holding lobbying jobs for five years while not applying the same spirit of the new law to themselves.

Some Conservative aides have already switched to lobbying companies to cash in on their connections to the new administration.

Critics for all opposition parties were united in saying that the bill falls short of the standards promised by the Conservatives when they were running for office during the Jan. 23 election campaign.

PSAC has concerns

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the largest federal public sector union, welcomed the bill but expressed concern that it may not go far enough.

The union plans to conduct "a thorough analysis" to assess the real impact that the bill will have on the lives of federal employees.

"On the surface it appears that this legislation will offer more protection against reprisals for all workers in the federal public sector who come forward to make a disclosure of wrongdoing," said PSAC president Nycole Turmel.

"The fact is the prevailing culture in the federal government is still one of fear and intimidation when it comes to exposing wrongdoing. PSAC intends to monitor the Conservative government to ensure that whistleblowers are fully protected," she added.

Turmel said one problem with the bill is a lack of necessary "full resources" required to make put the legislation into effect.

"Many of the recommendations related to the Public Service Integrity Commissioner will require more staff and resources," she noted.

"We are extremely concerned that the government will accept these suggestions without providing adequate resources to get the job done."

Turmel also said problems related to access to information will likely arise because of "limitations" placed by the legislation on access to information.

"For a government that trumpets transparency, we find it somewhat ironic that the accountability legislation would include limits on access to information," Turmel added. NUPGE

More information:Full Text: Federal Accountability Act