Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I am very honoured that the Prime Minister proposed appointing me to the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner as the result of an advertised process held this summer. As you know, the incumbent of this position is an agent of Parliament, and that is why I am here this afternoon: to give honourable members an opportunity to consider me for the position and to see if they are willing to place their trust in me. Moreover, yesterday I appeared before the Senate Committee of the Whole to share with them my background and my vision of the role that the Prime Minister would like to entrust to me.
The Public Sector Integrity Commissioner is an Office created in 2007 under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. The Office provides a safe and confidential mechanism enabling public servants and members of the public to disclose wrongdoings committed in the federal public sector. The Act protects from reprisal public servants who have disclosed wrongdoing and those who have cooperated in investigations.
If my appointment is approved, my allegiance will be to Parliament and I will execute my duties of implementing the Act in a completely independent and objective manner. In fact, I will continue to approach my work in the same way I have since becoming the Interim Commissioner. This is essential not only because the Act so decrees but also to inspire trust among those who do witness wrongdoings and who must make a difficult decision as to whether to blow the whistle. I strongly believe in the objectives of the Act expressed in its preamble and I fully intend to be a key actor in giving life to its provisions in the manner intended by Parliament.
In fact, it has been only four years since the Office was created as a result of the Accountability Act. It has already processed a few hundred files, but its existence, its role and the inherent limitations of its powers are not well known either within the public sector or by Canadians at large. In addition, its credibility was seriously undermined last December when the Auditor General’s Report was published, describing the Office as being inadequately organized and questioning the reliability of its decision-making processes.
As Interim Commissioner over the last twelve months, I think I have taken appropriate measures to increase the Office’s effectiveness and thus improve its image and especially its credibility. As Interim Commissioner since December 20, 2010, I have taken on three essential priorities in order to re establish harmony in the Office and to cultivate its credibility.
First, following a competitive process, I retained the services of an independent consulting firm, Deloitte, to review each of the 228 files that had been processed by my predecessor since the Office’s inception to ensure that the relevant provisions of the Act had been properly applied. It was important to act quickly but rigorously, and, by March, Deloitte confirmed to me that a third of the files contained deficiencies that needed to be rectified. We kept the complainants and disclosers of wrongdoing informed at every stage of the process and clearly explained to them why their files would or would not be reviewed. We should be able to complete all six of the files for which I ordered an investigation and the seventeen files for which an admissibility review will be conducted. Detailed results of the review process have been – and will continue to be – published on the Web periodically while maintaining the confidentiality of complainants and disclosers as required under the Act.
My second priority was to solidify the capacity to deal with cases by fully staffing the Office with qualified individuals and providing it with key management tools to ensure the work is carried out in a way that is consistent with the Act and in a timely manner. We have now implemented a modern management structure clearly defining the responsibilities of each staff member at every stage of the process. We have also adopted a Policy and Procedures Manual that is key in training, in making sure that all operational staff are provided with guidance as to how to review the admissibility of complaints and disclosures and to conduct investigations in a manner consistent with the Act.
We have more than doubled the number of staff directly involved in case analysis and investigations by realigning resources and making full use of our salary budget. We have explored a number of alternative approaches to reduce red tape and streamline our process. We are making full use of a recently revamped case management system allowing the deputy commissioner and me to track the progress of each file in real time.
I am pleased to report that, in spite of a marked increase in incoming cases over the last year, we did not accumulate a backlog. We are constantly improving towards our goal of completing the analysis of incoming cases according to newly adopted service standards requiring that admissibility reviews be completed within 45 days in the case of disclosures of wrongdoing in addition to meeting the statutorily mandated 15 days applicable to allegations of reprisal.
Finally, in order to re-establish dialogue with our key partners, I have established a Permanent Advisory Committee composed of the three NGOs directly interested in the work of our Office (FAIR, Accountability for Canadians and Democracy Watch), the two largest Public Service unions (PSAC and PIPS) as well as representatives from APEX, the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Tribunal. I am convinced that the dialogue with our partners is now reopened and that the quarterly meetings will ensure ongoing consultation and feedback on a number of important issues such as the development of policies to guide decision-making.
Our greatest challenge continues to be how to respond to criticism that no case of wrongdoing has yet been the subject of a case report to Parliament and that too few cases have been referred to the Tribunal. All I can say at this stage is that out of the 115 files currently active, 35 are the subject of a full-fledged investigation. This is two and a half times more than at the end of 2010. Because the role of the Commissioner is to reach a conclusion as to whether the alleged wrongdoing has taken place or whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that reprisal action has been taken only in light of the findings reached through the investigation, I cannot prejudge the result of any specific investigation. It is nevertheless fair to say that it is likely that a number of cases will be brought to the fore in the course of 2012. My role as an independent agent of Parliament is to investigate and determine whether each case is founded on its merits, not to reach a certain quota. I can assure you that, like our critics, I am eager to bring valid cases to the attention of Parliament or, in the case of allegations of reprisal, to refer them to the Tribunal as I have done on two occasions in the last few months.
I am convinced that my extensive experience in the federal justice sector will continue to help me with the type of leadership I hope to provide to the Office. I believe in the mission conferred on us by the Act. I fully appreciate the importance and potential of the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. I know that I will be able to process cases objectively by applying my legal training. I would like to assure you that there is no risk that my knowledge of the federal administration will make me partial to senior management but rather as giving me knowledge of the culture in which the alleged acts could have taken place. I ask you to place your trust in me and to allow me and my team to fully implement the Act over the next seven years.
If Parliament approves my appointment, I intend to pursue a number of key priorities that are consistent with and in furtherance of the same objectives of accessibility, competence and accountability. I have already alluded to my determination to develop policies to guide decision-making by the Commissioner in order to demystify how it is done and allow potential disclosers and complainants to better understand what the Office can do for them and what our limitations are. Considering how difficult it is to come forward and blow the whistle, I will also be looking at concrete ways to better assist public servants and members of the public. I am confident that it is by learning the lessons of the past and implementing such concrete steps that we will finally succeed in providing what Parliament anticipated in 2007.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Mr. Speaker, it would be my pleasure to answer any questions your colleagues may have for me.