Senator Cordy questions Ms. Harriet Sollowoy—Committee of the Whole

By: The Hon. Jane Cordy

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[The Senate resolved into a Committee of the Whole to receive Ms. Harriet Solloway respecting her appointment as Public Sector Integrity Commissioner]

Senator Cordy: Welcome, Ms. Solloway, to the Senate of Canada. It’s nice to have you here.

Ms. Solloway, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner relies solely on the public servants’ and the public’s reporting of wrongdoings to initiate any investigation. Public servants won’t come forward unless protections from reprisals are ensured. The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is supposed to ensure protections are in place; however, it was reported that federal workers are feeling increasingly skeptical about reporting wrongdoings in the public service and they are becoming more likely to fear reprisals for whistle-blowing instead of receiving help because of things that are going on.

My question to you is what role, if any, you see for the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to foster confidence in the complaint process for public servants so that they will come forward with wrongdoings and will not feel that there will be reprisals against them.

I look at your comment to Senator Tannas that — I think I’m quoting you correctly — when people don’t trust, they don’t feel heard. How do you make the public servants feel heard when they’re telling you about concerns that they have?

Harriet Solloway, nominee for the position of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner: Thank you. It’s not unusual for mistrust to exist in the face of wrongdoing, especially if the alleged wrongdoing is committed by a more senior member of the organization. I would add that wrongdoing can happen at all levels. Again, we need attention and communication. Nothing is worse than filing a complaint or raising an issue and then having no response, other than perhaps, “We received your email. Thank you very much,” and then nothing. Nothing is worse than that.

I would ensure that those people who do come forward are kept apprised at a reasonable interval. It can’t be necessarily every day, every week, but we would come to some kind of decision on what a reasonable interval would be, so they know what to expect. We could say, “We will get back to you in X period of time” — whatever period of time that is. At least in that way they would know that their issue has not just been put on a pile and forgotten about.

It may not change how rapidly it can be attended to. I don’t know yet. Again, I’m not there, but communication is critical.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much for that answer. The same report that showed the lessening of public servants’ trust in the complaint process also showed that about half of the participants who took part in the focus groups on which the report was based were unaware of the existence of the Public Sector Integrity Commission. It’s a big job, but have you given any thought to how this issue could be addressed? I know you spoke several times in your previous answer about communication being extremely important, but I wonder if you could expand on that.

Ms. Solloway: Thank you. Communication is extremely important. What would that look like in this context? It’s premature for me to be able to say. I don’t know what vehicles are used to communicate with members of the public service. There’s too much that I don’t know to be able to give you an answer as to what specifically I would do, but I would look for avenues of communication to reach as many as possible. It may take a little bit of time to implement, but that is one of the goals.

Senator Cordy: Thank you.

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