Braid: Alberta’s a tough place to be a whistleblower

Braid: Alberta’s a tough place to be a whistleblower by Don Braid, October 31, 2012, Calgary Herald
Are you a potential whistleblower out there in some lonely government department, eager to reveal a regime-busting scandal but afraid you’ll be fired? Well, you are in luck, my ethical but terrified friend. There will finally be whistleblower legislation in Alberta. After you spill the goods, your name must be kept private and anybody who bullies or punishes you could be fined $25,000. What, you’re still nervous?

OK, I see, you wonder how you actually go about revealing the scandal that’s been keeping you awake at night. Here’s what you do: First, you wait. The law won’t come into effect until June 1, 2013. So you should let your forbidden fruit ripen a while longer (unless you’d like to tell a columnist right now.) After the law is up and running, you go to a person in your organization who is officially appointed to hear stories like yours. Yes, someone in your department, one of your colleagues. Right sir, you are correct again, that person would probably be appointed to the whistleblower post by the deputy minister, your ultimate boss. Don’t worry about that, though. The boss isn’t supposed to know you’re the one who complained. Nobody else is supposed to know. And you can always go straight to the overall boss, the big whistleblower czar who will work for the legislature. Wait, sir, don’t run away. With your waistline, that’s bad for your heart. You want to live to collect that pension, don’t you?

Yes, I guess that IS exactly the point. You want to clear your conscience but still retire happily, and maybe even get a promotion in the meantime. So you wonder what happens after it all blows over — or you think it has. I’m not sure, frankly. Bullying or firing are easy to see. But punishing you by NOT doing something, by denying you that pension-boosting raise a few years later, that’s a lot harder to prove. Really, though, the government seems to be doing its best here, so I do think you could try to be a bit more trusting. No, please don’t laugh like that — I know it’s Halloween, but you sound hysterical. You’ll never reveal your secret now, you say? That really worries me, especially since your area of expertise is nuclear waste. …

Is this cynical? Of course. But in the case of this new law, cynicism is entirely justified by government performance — or the lack of it — in every other area where “independent” authorities handle such things. We have an ethics commissioner who, since taking over in 2008, has not conducted one formal investigation, but allowed ex-minister Evan Berger to take a job with the Agriculture Department he used to run. We have a chief electoral officer who is prohibited by law from revealing the results of three dozen findings of improper political donations. Last year the outgoing information commissioner, Frank Work, detailed how the government has, slowly and systematically, removed 38 laws and chunks of laws from any disclosure whatsoever. Whistleblower laws can work in places like the U.S. and Australia, where there’s an assumption that the people, not the government, own information. But that’s not the way it is in Alberta. Until the whole political culture changes, our aspiring whistleblowers will need more courage than common sense. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to: When Women Blow the Whistle ]

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