POLITICS

Whistleblower watchdog hints he's found wrongdoing

12/21/2011 05:16 EST | Updated 02/20/2012 05:12 EST

The new public sector integrity commissioner, Mario Dion, hints that his investigations into allegations of wrongdoing in the public service will begin to produce results in coming months.

In an interview with host Evan Solomon on Power & Politics Wednesday, Dion said his office is currently investigating 35 cases, with seven of them being looked at for a second time. Some of the files are being re-examined after being dismissed by Dion's predecessor, Christiane Ouimet.

Dion, who was appointed head of the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner on Dec.16 and began the job Wednesday, said if an investigation concludes there is wrongdoing, he must table a report in the House of Commons and the Senate within 60 days.

"It becomes a very public matter. I expect that in the coming months we will have a few such cases where I will hold a press conference to essentially explain to the public, at the same time [as] we table in the House and in the Senate, what the wrongdoing was, how it happened, what are the recommendations to prevent their reoccurrence," he said.

Dion was serving as the office's interim commissioner after Ouimet abruptly quit in late 2010 in the midst of a review of her office by former auditor general Sheila Fraser. Fraser's report said Ouimet acted inappropriately with staff in her office, retaliated against people she thought filed complaints about her, and didn't do her job. She described Ouimet's conduct as inappropriate and unacceptable, particularly given that her job was to protect public servants from reprisal.

Ouimet investigated only a handful of the 228 complaints she received over her three years in office and didn't once find a case of wrongdoing.

When Dion came on board as the interim commissioner, he ordered a review of all of those cases. Seventy out of the 228 were found to have "defects," Dion said Wednesday.

Some complainants may have decided to drop their case. Dion cannot describe any details of the cases but if wrongdoing is found in any of them, they will be made public.

The appointment of Dion has been criticized by some whistleblower advocates who say his own long career in the public service means he has a conflict of interest. They say the risk is high that Dion could potentially be faced with investigating people he has worked with before.

Dion told Solomon he understands the criticism, but rejects it, and he gave assurance that whenever a real or apparent conflict presented itself during his temporary term over the last year, he indicated so at the outset, and he will continue to do so in the future.

"This is a very large public service," he said. "I can assure you that my circle of friends is extremely limited," he said.

Dion said initially he wasn't going to apply for the job on a permanent basis, he was planning to retire, but he changed his mind.

"I fell in love with the job," said Dion. "I am convinced we can make this work," he said, referring to the office and the legislation that governs it.

"We are bound to have results," he said of the complaints that are currently being investigated.