Welcome to Whistleblowing Canada's Blog. The following is the first post. I hope it is the first of many that will stimulate discussion and debate on the issues that concern us.
Is it Time to Reboot Canadian Democracy?
Recently the media has had a large focus on a number of issues that speak to how Canadian citizens are governed federally. I refer here to questions raised by the SNC – Lavalin affair around:
- the rule of law – which means not only that the law must be obeyed but also that it applies to everyone equally including the Prime Minister and large powerful corporations.
- the role of the Clerk of the Privy Council – does s/he represent to his/her political masters the considered, best, impartial opinions/advice of the federal bureaucracy in the public interest or does s/he represent to the bureaucracy the views/preferences of his political masters which they are to support unquestioningly?
- the role of a public servant – is it solely to assist the Prime Minister and Ministers implement their policy preferences or does a public servant have a role as guardian of the rule of law and the public trust?
- are we governed by democratically elected representatives and an Executive headed by the leader of the party in power and his/her Cabinet who are responsible/answerable to the members of the House of Commons from all parties? Or,
- are we governed by leaders (and bureaucrats at their political leaders behest) who are too close to the very large, powerful companies who supposedly “creat jobs” (a wrong assumption) rather than keeping an “arm’s length” relationship with those the government regulates?
Commentary from the media and the public in the SNC-Lavalin affair indicate Canadians are concerned about getting truthful answers to all of the questions posed. They want to know about how the rule of law is upheld or not in Canada; how the traditional principle of bureaucratic independence from the political executive has been eroded; the erosion of the power of elected representatives to hold the PM and Cabinet accountable – well demonstrated in the Standing Committee on Justice in the SNC – Lavalin case. This saw the majority members of the party in power shut down any semblance of a real investigation by virtue of their majority numbers on the committee even though the majority of Canadians did not vote for them. This is a big factor in why few of our Standing Committees work as they should – in the interest of all Canadians (and one which the principle of proportional representation could fix); and lastly, but not least, they want to know more about the burgeoning examples of a too close relationship with the industries our government is supposed to regulate - putting the safety of us all at risk.
Another front-page example of this inappropriately close relationship is in the March 15, 2019, National Post. Government officials from either or both of the Department of National Defence and Public Services and Procurement Canada apparently tipped off Irving Shipbuilding that a journalist was asking questions about possible problems with some of the welding on HMCS Harry DeWolf, the first of six new Arctic patrol ships Irving is building for the Royal Canadian Navy. Within 90 minutes of asking the questions of the government, the company emailed Postmedia wanting to discuss it and apparently issued threats of legal action if the story contained anything false that would damage their reputation.
The results of full-blown deregulation of the 1990’s, which began in the 1970’s, are now bursting out onto the public stage once more. This was one of the most important public policies of our era. In the 1990’s there was talk of the need to work in “partnership” with industry, to cut “red tape” and to “get out of the way” of industry as corporations would “self-regulate” with the help of the market. Ironically, Justice Krever in the1997 Report of his inquiry into contaminated blood (HIV, Hep C) covering events which happened in the 1980’s, recommended taking a different direction as follows:
“The relationship between a regulator and the regulated … must never become one in which the regulator loses sight of the principle that it regulates only in the public interest and not in the interest of the regulated.”
He was recommending an “arm’s length” relationship, “not an arm in arm” relationship. Moreover, that same year Health Canada, the department which played a role in the contaminated blood scandal, kept heading in the same direction as before- too close - while their Minister insisted they were implementing Krever’s recommendations. To the contrary, in “Quality Initiative Bulletin #2”, Drugs and Medical Devices Programme, issued by a Director General, there was a statement on who the client of the Department is. It stated that the client is “the direct recipient of your services. In many cases, this is the person or company who pays for the service.” Further, the public “[. . .] are not your direct client in most cases [. . .]” (1). Feb. 1997.
There are many other regulatory failures that could be cited – Lac Megantic for one. The SNC-Lavalin affair and other examples of this “too close” relationship offer an opportunity for leaders to step back and look at what needs to be done to repair our dysfunctional political culture and democracy. What would be helpful would be an evaluation of deregulation and its impact on our country and its people as a start. That same “too close” relationship previously discussed and happening in industries such as engineering, shipbuilding, health care, is also happening in every other industry that affects us in important ways, such as the oil industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry. This has resulted in what some call “policy capture” and “institutional corruption” which is not always about money, but a dependency that distracts an organization (regulator) from being able to fulfill its mission.
All of the previously discussed dysfunction in our political and organizational cultures needs to be urgently addressed.