POLITICS

New public service integrity watchdog should be in place soon

12/11/2014 06:47 EST | Updated 02/10/2015 05:59 EST
A new integrity watchdog for the federal bureaucracy should be in place by Christmas.

The current public service integrity commissioner, Mario Dion, announced in August that he's quitting, citing personal reasons.

In April, just months earlier, the auditor general found "gross mismanagement" of two separate case files in the troubled Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada, which was created by the Conservative government in 2007.

But Dion said he's helped to repair the office's reputation after the first commissioner, Christiane Ouimet, resigned in disgrace in 2010 before a scathing audit found she had failed to fulfill her mandate and had mistreated her staff.

"I think we now have a viable office, an office that can actually fulfill its mandate," Dion said.

"We have service standards. We give ourselves a limited number of days to do things and we comply with those standards. We're better known than we used to be.

"I have full confidence that my successor will be able to continue to make it work and to improve further the way we do things."

Number of complaints remain low

The office has done about 100 investigations and has filed 10 case reports in Parliament, Dion said.

But he acknowledges the number of complaints are still low, considering he's the watchdog for 400,000 public servants.

He said it's because there is still fear of reprisal, and that it takes time to build trust.

He recommends a review of federal whistleblower legislation in the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, which came into force in 2007.

The office has 15 ideas for improvements, Dion said, if and when the president of the Treasury Board calls for a legislative review.

Commissioner role has been disappointment, says advocate

Some of those recommendations include making thousands of governor in council appointees covered under the commissioner's mandate, as well as reversing a current requirement for the office to not pursue evidence outside of the public sector. 

David Hutton, a whistleblowing advocate, said he holds out little hope for the role of the integrity commissioner in general.

"I think it's been extremely disappointing," Hutton said.

"[Dion] has consistently turned away really important cases, and instead has taken up ... pretty small potatoes, cases where it could all be blamed on an individual," Hutton said.

Dion will soon head the Immigration and Refugee Board.