Complaints To The Ombudsman Remain Steady, But Public Sector Employees Are Not Blowing The Whistle About Wrongdoings
Annual reports for Saskatchewan’s Ombudsman and Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner, Mary McFadyen, were tabled in the Saskatchewan Legislature today. In her role as Ombudsman, she received 3,124 complaints about provincial and municipal entities. By contrast, public sector employees only contacted her six times last year in her role as Commissioner. She finds this troubling. “It would be nice to think that these numbers are very low because there has been very little wrongdoing going on in Saskatchewan government institutions, but with thousands of employees across a broad system, we would expect to hear from more people.”
The Public Interest Disclosure Act protects employees of certain provincial government institutions who disclose possible workplace wrongdoings to the Commissioner or to a designated officer within their workplace. McFadyen has only received a total of 77 inquiries (including disclosures and complaints of reprisal) since 2012. During the same period, designated officers have reported receiving even fewer: only six.
McFadyen says employees might not feel safe about coming forward, or they may not feel comfortable approaching designated officers who tend to be high-ranking officials. Designated officers might also be under-reporting because they may think they don’t have to count disclosures about issues that do not meet the definition of a wrongdoing under the Act.
She says all disclosures count. “We recognize that the definition of a wrongdoing under the Act is very specific, and we don’t expect public sector employees to know whether their disclosures meet that definition. They just need to know that if something is going on at work that they believe doesn’t pass the smell test, they can speak up without fear of reprisal.”
As Ombudsman, McFadyen continued to address municipal complaints, including those about council member conduct. McFadyen said the Office continues to publish the results of these investigations because they involve elected public officials, and it helps municipalities understand their obligations. “We offered webinars on how to set up a process for handling code of ethics complaints, and we made presentations to several municipal groups – and we will continue to do so.”
Her Office also addressed a wide range of complaints about provincial public sector services. For example:
- A long-term care facility secured a group cable TV rate for its residents but wouldn’t allow a blind resident to opt out (p 23).
- An adjudicator appointed under The Saskatchewan Employment Act heard an appeal about a terminated employee in June 2016. Nearly three years later, the parties are still waiting for a decision. (p 32).
- She made recommendations in four instances when the official rules actually prevented a fair decision – two to a Corrections appeal adjudicator (p 13) and two to the Ministry of Social Services (p 7 & 8).
The Ombudsman’s annual report is available at www.ombudsman.sk.ca and the Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner’s annual report is available at www.saskpidc.ca. The Ombudsman and Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner operate under The Ombudsman Act, 2012 and The Public Interest Disclosure Act. She is an officer of the Legislative Assembly. Her Office promotes and protects fairness and integrity in the design and delivery of government services.
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Leila Dueck, Director of Communications