Robyn Benson, PSAC

Public Service ethics: do as I say



Parliament buildings.jpg

not as I do. But this latest scandal, involving the Canada School of Public Service—-created in 2004 to “foster a common sense of purpose, values and traditions in the public service”—is by now just icing on the cake.

What kind of governance do Canadians want? Over the past several years, the question of ethics has loomed large in what some are pleased to call a “value-driven” Public Service, and in Parliament as well.

In a perfect world, one might have thought this would all go without saying, but that’s far from the case in the here and now. We have, for example, “whistle-blowing” legislation on the books—the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, but it’s gravely flawed, exposing individuals who do come forward to considerable risk, and producing notoriously poor results.

The legislation provided for a Public Service Integrity Commissioner (PSIC). The first appointed Commissioner was Christiane Ouimet, who failed to uphold a single one of the 228 complaints made to her office in a 3-year period. She was a bully who retaliated against her own staff.

In her hands was placed the responsibility of ensuring Public Service integrity. The mind boggles.

Was she incompetent? Maybe she was just doing the job expected of her:

Documents obtained earlier this week by The Canadian Press suggest Ouimet enjoyed a cozy relationship with officials in the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office, and sought out meetings with Treasury Board President Stockwell Day and his predecessor, Vic Toews.

In any case, she was packed off with a cool half million dollars of your money and mine.

Then came Mario Dion. It appears he was cut from much the same cloth. He managed to find one case of wrongdoing in the two reports he has submitted to Parliament since signing on.

Last year, a bungled case set off a very interesting chain of events indeed. First, a scathing article about it appeared in the Ottawa Citizen. Then the public watchdog FAIR sent a letter to the Citizen, stating that this was far from the only case of its kind.

The result? Retaliation, from the Commissioner who is supposed to investigate complaints of retaliation! He promptly kicked FAIR off the PSIC Advisory Committee. Democracy Watch resigned from the Committee in protest.

Oh, we’re in good hands.

And at the government level the same lazy attitude to ethics can be seen everywhere. A fish, as they say, rots from the head.

Arthur Porter, the Harper-appointed former head of the Security and Intelligence Review Committee which oversees the operations of CSIS, is now a wanted man. Apparently he continues to keep his seat on the Privy Council. While chairing SIRC, he was also giving money to the Conservative party.

Bruce Carson is another name to keep in mind. Two previous convictions for fraud didn’t keep him out of the Prime Minister’s Office, with ready access to state secrets. Now he’s been charged with influence-peddling, and will face trial this July.

Are there Parliamentary ethics watchdogs? You bet. There’s Mary Dawson, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. She got lots of mail about Carson, and began a conflict-of-interest probe, but apparently shelved it in November 2011 because the RCMP were doing their own investigation. There’s Karen Shepherd, the federal Lobbying Commissioner, who supposedly completed an “explosive” report on Carson. If so, it still hasn’t been publicly released.

Mary Dawson’s notion of conflict of interest deserves a closer look. Conservative MPs who would benefit financially from the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board, voting to shut it down? No problem, she said. In fact, when Conservatives are involved, she rarely sees problems. Or she doesn’t have enough information. Or the rules aren’t clear enough. Or she just doesn’t feel like investigating.

It’s almost as though the Conservative government doesn’t want unethical behaviour challenged or exposed, either in its own ranks or in the Public Service. Surely not.


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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on March 20, 2013 11:04 AM.

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