PEI

Whistleblower legislation back on agenda after government settles PNP case

After reaching a settlement with the P.E.I. government in what has become known as the PNP "whistleblower" case, one of the women involved said she is optimistic government will enact legislation to protect civil servants who come forward with allegations of wrongdoing within government.

3 women had filed a lawsuit against the province for breach of privacy

Susan Holmes is shown at her home in Moncton, N.B., in January 2018. On Friday, Holmes said she feels 'terrific' that a settlement has been reached. (Ron Ward/Canadian Press)

After reaching a settlement with the P.E.I. government in what has become known as the PNP "whistleblower" case, one of the women involved said she is optimistic government will enact legislation to protect civil servants who come forward with allegations of wrongdoing within government.

Susan Holmes is one of the three women who filed a lawsuit against the province. 

Holmes, along with Cora Plourd Nicholson and Svetlana Tenetko, were seeking $1.8 million in damages for breach of privacy.

The three women made national headlines in September 2011 with allegations of bribery and fraud within P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program.

The province's privacy commissioner concluded in 2017 that their privacy was breached when personal information about the three women was subsequently leaked to the P.E.I. Liberal Party during the 2011 election campaign.

I feel like I was re-born today when I woke up.— Susan Holmes

Holmes said she feels "terrific" that a settlement has been reached. The terms of the settlement are confidential. 

"It's a time for the page to be turned. And I feel like I was re-born today when I woke up," she said.

After two investigations the allegations the women brought forward did not lead to any charges. However the fallout did lead to discussions about protecting whistleblowers.

Royal assent in 2017

In 2017, government passed the Public Interest Disclosure and Whistleblower Protection Act. It received royal assent in December 2017, but it still has not been enacted. 

At the time when the bill was being discussed in the legislature, the PCs and Greens, both in opposition at the time, raised concerns about the bill — including that the process for investigating reports would not be arm's-length enough from government.

A flawed or inadequate bill is better than no bill at all.— Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker

For example, as the act is written now, when a civil servant comes forward with a complaint, the new public interest disclosure commissioner could conduct the investigation, or it could be conducted by the department's deputy minister. 

"If you're working in the civil service, almost out of necessity that's going to be your boss," said Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker. 

"Bringing forward a complaint where you don't know how much of that information is going to make it to your boss, who is going to be the ultimate arbiter of this, is I mean, that's just not acceptable."

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says he wants to see whistleblower legislation enacted as soon as possible. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

On Friday, Bevan-Baker said he still has the same concerns, however he said he doesn't want to wait to see the legislation enacted. 

"A flawed or inadequate bill is better than no bill at all," Bevan-Baker said. 

"I'd rather see the thing proclaimed now, because the work has been done. And then we could amend it on the floor during this sitting if we wanted to."

Concerns raised

CBC was not able to reach Premier Dennis King Friday. In a written statement on Thursday, King said "government will work to finalize and proclaim this fall session."

In the statement, King made no mention of changes to the legislation.

Holmes said she shares concerns raised by Bevan-Baker, and by the PCs back in 2017, about flaws in the legislation. However, she said she feels optimistic that government will enact the legislation — and she said she would like to be involved in discussions about possible changes to legislation.

"I would certainly hope to have the government reach out and I would provide insights as to how that affects a person on a personal level, but also some of the unforeseen aspects that happened to the three of us that could potentially be avoided in the future," Holmes said. 

Holmes said she believes having legislation in place would encourage other civil servants to come forward if they ever have concerns about possible wrongdoing. 

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About the Author

Sarah MacMillan is a journalist with CBC P.E.I. You can contact her at sarah.macmillan@cbc.ca