EDMONTON - Alberta government workers, teachers, doctors, and nurses are among thousands who will soon be able to flag wrongdoing and be protected from reprisal under new legislation.
Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar said the proposed Public Interest Disclosure Act, tabled Tuesday, builds on similar legislation in other provinces.
"We went further than other jurisdictions in Canada with this legislation by enshrining in legislation the fact that we're covering our agencies, boards, commissions, (and) our health and education institutions," said Bhullar.
The plan is for the bill to pass in the current legislature sitting and become law on June 1, 2013.
The act sets out a two-step process: whistleblowers will first make their concerns known to a designated person in their department or organization.
If it can't be resolved there, the case will go to a newly created Public Interest Disclosure commissioner, who will act independently of the legislature.
If the complaint involves an immediate issue of safety to people or the environment, or if the whistleblower feels there will be reprisal for speaking out, he or she can bypass the in-house reporting and go straight to the commissioner.
The commissioner will have to report to the public on the number of cases he or she has resolved along with any recommendations that arose out of them.
Any published information will respect confidentiality.
Opposition Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said it's time for Alberta to bring in whistleblower legislation, but said they will push to expand the wording of the bill to make sure government politicians know they, too, are on the hook.
Smith said it was the actions of Premier Alison Redford's government that illuminated the need for whistleblower legislation in the first place.
"It was the bullying of doctors and nurses, not only by their bosses, but going all the way up to politicians," said Smith.
"It was also because of the bullying of school boards and municipal councils who felt they had to contribute dollars to the governing party, otherwise they might lose grants."
Earlier this year, Alberta's Health Quality Council reported that many doctors in the system reported being fired, reprimanded or stripped of hospital privileges for questioning the care or policies of health bureaucrats.
Alberta Health Services is now working to create avenues for doctors to complain without fear of reprisal.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said while the aims of the bill are laudable, he will wait to see the regulations that will accompany them.
"The devil is in the details," said Sherman.
"What is the (exact) protection for the whistleblower?
"The problem is the government isn't going to fix wrongdoings unless it makes broader changes to the political and administrative cultures of government."
NDP critic Deron Bilous said the act doesn't go far enough.
"It only applies to public sector (workers)," said Bilous. "Whistleblower protection should be applied to all sectors — private and public," he said.
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