Friday, October 09, 2009

Backing whistleblowers

Further to last night's CP story on the bevy of Privy Council Office personnel who have ponied up on the partisanship running rampant behind closed doors within the Harper government, Kady O'Malley followed it up by posting a transcript of a scrum with Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay after Question Period today. I will repost the scrum transcript here, it's not that long and then a few points below:
Question: Okay. Individual came forward, who was it anyway? I haven’t had a chance to -

Martha Hall Findlay: Well, at this point I’m not going to disclose their names because out of protection for them at this point.

Question: But you actually spoke to someone personally.

Martha Hall Findlay: I have not spoken to that person personally but that person has spoken to members of our group, absolutely.

Question: Right. And then -

Question: Are you talking about a private conversation? Like what’s the source of all this?

Martha Hall Findlay: Well, we’ve already seen there have been a number of reports of senior civil servants. In this particular circumstance, to disclose their names would be I think very, very troubling for them. So we want to make sure that we are in fact protecting them.

Question: This is a -

Martha Hall Findlay: A process.

Question: — a civil servant who came to the Liberal caucus to talk to you about this?

Martha Hall Findlay: We have had – and they may not be the same people because we have had newspaper reports of senior civil servants actually making statements to members of the media. We also have had conversations internally with others who have raised the same concerns. But at this point it’s not fair to them to disclose who they are.
Not to be too critical here but the brainiac questions here are kind of funny. Yes, let's name names in the wide open in a whistleblowing context. And I'm sure the whistleblower(s) waltzed right into the Liberal caucus room. But moving's clear, then, that there are public servants, we don't know how many, who are concerned enough by what they are seeing or have seen, to reach out. So we will see what comes of this.

One of the lines cropping up in the comment section there is the suggestion that it is improper for Liberals, being partisans, to be facilitating such people with their complaints. There's nothing wrong with public servants contacting those who are similarly expressing concern about abuses which are in the public eye - infrastructure partisanship, excessive advertising, or perhaps other issues to come - as long as the process through which they're doing so is neutral. The information conveyed by a whistleblower will ultimately stand or fall on its own merit. And besides, people are speaking to the media, it's not as if multiple channels aren't being used. And it's unknown whether any of these public servants have availed themselves of the complaint process through the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner's office.

Secondly, the "everyone does it" line has cropped up, a commenter has reiterated Donald Savoie's quote in the original CP story that all governing parties do this, i.e., nothing to see here. Savoie was countered by a fellow academic, however, and the quotes in the report from public servants speak for themselves. Those quoted seemed to convey a comparative sensibility, that they had indeed witnessed prior governments yet this present one is off the charts in its partisan bent. Such information should be listened to and not waved off.

Then there's "adscam, adscam, adscam," the old and presently irrelevant saw that is being floated. Next.

There's also some concern about the use of the word "corruption" being used here in the context of the excessive partisan governmental operations. It's too much they're bleating. Corruption can mean many things beyond the typical examples that would come to mind (bribery, kickbacks, etc.). As a generic label, it's fair in this context to describe the rule violations being alleged. The Conservative government using government resources to benefit the Conservative party. And to further illuminate its use, here's what Professor Aucoin stated in the CP report:
During a recent address in Ottawa to departmental audit committees -- groups made up of former senior civil servants -- Aucoin referred to the politicization of the bureaucracy as "a form of political corruption."

Some of his listeners, he said, were shocked by his use of such a term and asked if that's really what he meant to say.

"I said yeah, it's a misuse of political authority," Aucoin recounted.

"It's not illegal, necessarily. But if we're going to talk about values and ethics -- and we're not going to make them criminal -- then there's got to be a sphere of behaviour that's inappropriate."
There are multiple interpretations on the word. Sure, let's be careful with the terminology but let's keep speaking strongly about the issues here.

Final note, check out the comment from "Bureaucrat" at the end of the thread as well. No way to verify its authenticity but perhaps those with resources might be interested in following up on some of the points raised.