Sweeping promises made by Stephen Harper and Conservative MPs during election campaign
Ottawa (7 March 2006) - The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is closely monitoring what the new Harper government is doing to live up to its lofty campaign promises of strong new legislation to protect whistleblowers.
So far there is no hard evidence that the Tories are planning to back down but neither has the government confirmed that it will act clearly and decisively on the full list of commitments made to voters during the Jan. 23 election campaign.
NUPGE has campaigned for many years for the adoption of substantive legislation to protect whistleblowers at all levels of government. The union will keep members and components updated as events occur.
So far, the main action that the government has taken is to announce that new whistleblower protection measures will be included as part of its "accountability act" to be introduced during the first Tory session of Parliament, which opens April 3.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, who represents the Ottawa area riding of Nepean-Carleton, has been assigned by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to consult with various groups on the drafting of the new provisions.
To date, Poilievre has met with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Democracy Watch, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and Allan Cutler, a high-profile public sector whistleblower who tried and failed to win election as a Tory in Ottawa South.
It's not clear what the consultations involve – or what Poilievre is trying to accomplish – since the steps the Tories said they would take were plainly laid out in the Tory election platform.
Planning to backtrack?
Hopefully, Poilievre is not laying the groundwork to reverse or backtrack on this issue, as Harper has done so glaringly in other areas, such as the poaching of Liberal MP David Emerson and the appointment of Tory organizer Pierre Fortier to the Senate.
"The goal is to stop waste and scandal before they start and to protect ... people who are courageous enough to speak out," Poilievre told the Ottawa Citizen this week.
Let's hope he means it.
Since the election, Harper has made Poilievre parliamentary secretary to John Baird, an anti-union, right-wing MP who served as the cabinet minister under former Ontario premier Mike Harris.
Baird is now the federal Treasury Board President and his views will carry significant weight in whatever the government decides.
Gomery recommendations in doubt?
In opposition, the Tories trumpeted the issue of accountability, focusing heavily on improved protection for whistleblowers. They also pledged to implement the findings of the Gomery Commission.
However, pressure is already building on Harper to pull back from some of Gomery's recommendations. Just this week it was reported that a group of influential corporate and political lobbyists (Liberal as well as Conservative) is petitioning the government to ignore a number of key Gomery proposals.
Made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Conservative MPs during the 2006 election:
Stand Up for Canada
Provide Real Protection for Whistleblowers
There have been many examples over the years of reprisals against government whistleblowers, including public servants who helped reveal the sponsorship scandal, and others who exposed waste and abuse in the Department of Foreign Affairs. After pressure from the opposition and whistleblowers themselves, the Liberals brought forward weak legislation to deal with the issue. Much more still needs to be done.
A Conservative government will: