Whistleblowers protected under new law unveiled by province

The Newfoundland and Labrador government unveiled the province's first whistleblower legislation on Tuesday, after years of discussion and planning.
MHA Steve Kent says provincial whistleblower legislation took a while to complete because government was watching what other Canadian provinces were doing to learn how best to make the law. (CBC)

The Newfoundland and Labrador government unveiled the province's first whistleblower legislation on Tuesday, after years of discussion and planning.

The law would provide public employees with a confidential manner to report wrongdoing within the civil service, with protection from any retaliation.

Public Engagement Minister Steve Kent unveiled the legislation, set to be tabled in the House of Assembly.

If it passes, government employees will be able to submit a complaint to the Office of the Citizens' Representative.

Kent said under the legislation, a civil service employee would be able to go straight to the citizens' representative without having to approach anyone in government first.

"I think it's a very important provision to exist in a modern democracy," said Kent.

"If an employee is aware of a serious wrongdoing that's occurring, using public funds for instance, then there's an avenue that employees can bring that forward and blow the whistle, so to speak, without fear of reprisal."

The legislation was originally promised by government in 2007, but Kent said the province spent a lot of time looking at what other areas of Canada did to ensure the laws they brought in were up to par.

"We were learning from what was happening in other jurisdictions, and we recognized there were things that we could gain from paying attention to what was happening in other jurisdictions and we've tailored our legislation accordingly," he said.

Worth the wait

The act doesn't cover deliberations of Cabinet and information protected by soliciter-client privilege.

Barry Fleming, the citizens' representative who will deal with the complaints, said it's a positive step for the province.
Barry Fleming is the ombudsman with Newfoundland and Labrador's Office of the Citizens' Representative. (CBC)

"I think it's a good day for the public service.This legislation represents, really, the best model in the country in terms of prosecuting or investigating complaints of wrongdoing," said Fleming.

While it's been a long time in the works, Fleming said this allowed for time to look at what the rest of Canada was doing for whistleblowers.

"We, as a matter of course, have continually taken a look at the new legislation that has been put in place by other provinces, and we were very pleased with this end product."

Kent said the whistleblower act is set to take effect on July 1 to allow time for education on its provisions in the public service and for the Citizen's Representative to get ready to begin taking complaints.

If an employee blows the whistle and feels they've been demoted, fired or otherwise penalized for it, the Labour Relations Board will have power under the act to investigate the incident.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the seventh province to enact whistleblower legislation.

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