Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Whistleblowers deserve more support

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This photo provided by the Guardian newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency.

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This photo provided by the Guardian newspaper in London shows Edward Snowden, who worked as a contract employee at the National Security Agency.

Edward Snowden (American), Julian Assange (Australian), and Bradley, now known as Chelsea, Manning (American) are famous recent whistleblowers. Blowing the whistle is not for the faint of heart. These people paid with their freedom.

Yet, in our political climate of widespread government control, an arena where openness and transparency is usually lacking, whistleblowing is in the public interest. An Economist article titled The Enemy Within claimed: "the most powerful weapon against (misdeeds) is... a whistleblower."

When using the term, I omit Keith Edwards of JP Morgan Chase. He stands to gain $64 million for turning over evidence of alleged employer misdeeds to the American government. He gains for his revelations, a paid informer. Manning received money, too.

Philosopher Sissela Bok identified three aspects of whistleblowing -- dissent, loyalty and accusation. Dissent through accusation occurs when someone publicly disagrees with an authority and takes a risk -- loss of a job, risk of a lawsuit, or public ridicule.

Employees are expected to be loyal to their organization, and most whistleblowers are not accustomed to making public accusations. They can flounder when the accused fights back, often by not responding directly to the whistleblower's assertions. If the accusation is perceived likely to be believed, authority often attacks the whistleblower's character rather than their experience or knowledge.

I report on five recent Manitoba occurrences of apparent whistleblowing. Of the five, only one truly fits the full definition, though aspects of whistleblowing are present in all.

Take myself, I was chairman of the Public Utilities Board. During my tenure I became knowledgeable about public utilities. Since I retired, I have taken public stances against aspects of the operations and plans of utilities. While I oppose actions taken by authorities, and am not loyal to the party that appointed me to the PUB, I am not a true whistleblower.

Being retired I cannot be brought into line by the risk of being fired or having pay raises withheld. And, since I use information already in the public domain, my risk of being sued is low. The worst outcome for me is the loss of friends and the risk that my reputation will be damaged.

My next example is Jack Dalgleish, formerly employed by the provincial government. Years ago, he told Greg Selinger the Crocus Investment Fund was illiquid, and suggested Crocus should not sell new shares. Rather than accepting his advice, the government let Crocus continue to sell shares, while placing him in a back office where he read books for four years before he retired. As Dalgleish only blew the whistle after he retired, he, like me, though dissenting and not loyal, is not a full-fledged whistleblower.

My third example is a past consultant to Manitoba Hydro, publicly described as NYC. Her relationship with Hydro came to a sudden end when she brought to Hydro's top brass her concerns as to the adequacy of Hydro's risk management and the propriety of certain of its actions.

Following NYC's severance, she brought forward allegations to Manitoba's ombudsman, Crown Corporations Council, auditor general and the PUB. Disappointed with the reception, she contacted the media. Despite the ostensible purpose of the Whistleblower Act, Hydro took NYC to court. While NYC, experiencing legal bills, withdrew from Manitoba, she filed a suit against Hydro, KPMG and the PUB in a New York court. While NYC dissented from the views and actions of Hydro and was not loyal, she doesn't meet the strict definition of a whistleblower. NYC brought forth her allegations after her contractual arrangement had ended.

Next, I cite the case of former NDP minister Christine Melnick, tossed from cabinet to take one for the team only to be later punted from the NDP caucus for deciding not to take one for the team after all. Her classification as a whistleblower is tenuous.

My final example is Solange Garson, a councillor of Tataskweyak Cree First Nation. TCN has entered into a partnership with Manitoba Hydro to build a new hydro-electric generating station, receiving many benefits.

Her allegations of Hydro and TCN misdeeds were ignored by her fellow councillors, so she took them to the media. Her accusations have not been investigated and she has been ostracized by her community, unable to live there or serve in her elected role.

Only Garson meets the full definition of being a whistleblower. Brave, determined, taking serious penalties, her loss and suffering are significant, yet she stands unbowed.

These so few recent Manitoba experiences suggest the main reason there have not been more cases of whistleblowing within the ranks of government and Crown corporations. Despite a once highly touted provincial whistleblower statute, one supposedly protecting those willing to come forward, the real message is shut up or else. For most, it is understandably preferable to stay quiet and continue to be paid than speak up publicly and risk being driven out (even if with a package).

In her last annual report as auditor general, Carol Bellringer expressed concern over the government's weak effort to define ethical behaviour and support whistleblowing within the civil service.

 

Graham Lane is a retired chartered accountant who served as chairman of the Public Utilities Board from 2004 to 2012. Following his retirement from PUB, he has criticized government and its agencies.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 2, 2014 A9

History

Updated on Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 5:36 AM CDT: Changes reference to Chelsea Manning

9:26 AM: Corrects spelling of Solange Garson's name

12:49 AM: Corrects Julian Assange's nationality

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About Graham Lane

Graham Lane is a retired chartered accountant who worked in the public and private sectors for 50 years, concluding his career as chairman of the Manitoba Public Utilities Board.

He has also held key positions at Credit Union Central, Public Investments of Manitoba, the Manitoba Public Insurance Corp., the University of Winnipeg, and the Manitoba Worker's Compensation Board.

Before gaining his CA designation in Quebec, he was third in Canada in the then-national intermediate examination. He has a diploma in business administration from the University of Western Ontario and has served on numerous charitable and service boards.

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