Ouimet's severance needs audit, group says

The Government Ethics Coalition calls for investigation into severance packages given to former integrity watchdog Christiane Ouimet and other public servants.

Auditor General Fraser should investigate Christiane Ouimet's agreement and others: group

Auditor General Sheila Fraser should take a close look at a departure package given to the former public sector integrity commissioner, a group of accountability organizations said Monday.

The group, led by Democracy Watch and the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR), argues Christiane Ouimet shouldn't have gotten a $534,000 departure package when she left her job less than halfway into her seven-year term. They want an audit of the package, as well as on other severance packages given to former public servants.

"The auditor general must examine the payoff given to the former disgraced integrity commissioner, and all similar past payoffs by federal government institutions, to find out just how much money the government has wasted," Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch and chair of the Government Ethics Coalition, said in a news release.

A spokeswoman for the auditor general says the office hasn't yet received the request and wouldn't reply to the request through the media anyway.

Fraser audited Ouimet's office in 2009 and 2010, and released a scathing report last December. In it, Fraser said Ouimet's "behaviour and actions do not pass the test of public scrutiny and are inappropriate and unacceptable for a public servant — most notably for the agent of Parliament specifically charged with the responsibility of upholding integrity in the public sector and of protecting public servants from reprisal."

Fraser concluded Ouimet acted inappropriately with staff in her office, retaliated against people she thought filed complaints about her, and didn't do her job. Ouimet investigated only seven of 228 complaints and found no wrongdoing in any of them.

Departure agreement

Ouimet's Oct. 14, 2010, departure agreement shows she got a separation allowance of $354,000, equal to 18 months salary, $53,100 in foregone benefits, pension and other claims, and another 28 weeks of salary, worth $127,000, plus her remaining vacation leave.

That works out to about $534,100.

The agreement also includes a confidentiality clause, which opposition MPs say equates to paying her hush money. They allege she was following government orders not to investigate allegations of whistleblower abuse.

The Conservatives argue they were following legal advice when they settled Ouimet's severance and say all the party leaders had input into her appointment.

Ouimet had been hired as commissioner on a seven-year contract, with a salary range of $182,750 to $215,000. She served three of those seven years.

At an appearance in front of a House of Commons committee last week, Ouimet said she gave up the last years of her career.

"I lost seven years income, seven years pension. I lost my reputation, I lost my health," Ouimet, who spent 28 years in the public service, told the public accounts committee.

She also said she could answer every one of Fraser's points, but she didn't respond in the space allowed for her in the audit report.