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Cancel ex-integrity czar's $500,000 severance deal, Ottawa told

Christiane Ouimet, then Canada's first Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, appears before a Senate committee in Ottawa on June 19, 2007

Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press/Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

An alliance of more than 30 advocacy groups, from labour unions to animal-welfare associations, has asked the government to cancel the severance package worth more than $500,000 that was paid to disgraced integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet.

The alliance, which calls itself the Government Ethics Coalition, points out that severance is normally given to people who are laid off or fired - not those who voluntarily retire - and it is usually paid out at a rate of one to two weeks' pay for every year served.

Ms. Ouimet, who became the first ever integrity commissioner in 2007, received a severance package worth $534,000 in addition to her normal pension benefits when she abruptly retired last fall.

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Her departure was followed by the release of a damning report of an investigation conducted by Auditor General Sheila Fraser that found Ms. Ouimet had acted on only a handful of the hundreds of complaints that had been lodged with her office and had berated and belittled her staff.

Ms. Ouimet is scheduled to testify before the public accounts committee of the House of Commons on Thursday.

The Government Ethics Coalition has asked the committee to also hear testimony from the government officials who negotiated the severance deal that was signed by Wayne Wouters, the Clerk of the Privy Council. The agreement required both the government and Ms. Ouimet to keep details of what she received under wraps.

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch, a member of the alliance, said he wonders whether other people who have held similar positions have been given such rich packages when they have voluntarily retired. "Do they pay people off just because they are Officers of Parliament?" he asked. "I think it's a huge can of worms that's been opened here."

Ms. Fraser herself is soon to retire, Mr. Conacher pointed out.

"Is Sheila Fraser getting paid $500,000" when she leaves? he asked. "And, if not, then it's not usual practice and I want to know the name of the lawyer who told the government they had to do this."

David Hutton, the executive director of Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform, an organization that represents federal whistleblowers and is part of the coalition, said Ms. Ouimet's performance had undermined efforts to combat misconduct within the public service.

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The deal with Ms. Ouimet was signed on the same day that she presented her last report to Parliament, said Mr. Hutton. The government, he said, knew for months that there were problems in her office and that an audit was being conducted but said nothing about it and then imposed a gag order on the settlement.

The Government Ethics Coalition also wants to know why Ms. Ouimet's successor, Mario Dion, contacted the Privy Council Office and shared information about staffing and other situations in an apparent effort to protect the Clerk of the Privy Council.

And it has called on the public accounts committee to follow up on a recent letter by seven officers of Parliament that was sent to the House of Commons urging stronger reviews of their appointments and performance.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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