Thursday, 10 March 2011

Ex-integrity office staffers bristle at Ouimet's 'Cadillac package'

Ex-integrity office staffers bristle at Ouimet's 'Cadillac package'
Former employees of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner's office, who took pension hits for quitting a caustic workplace, are outraged the federal government handed their disgraced boss a generous severance package to walk away quietly.

Christiane Ouimet received a separation allowance of $354,000, another $53,100 in lieu of foregone benefits, and an additional 28 weeks of severance pay worth about $137,000.

The departure agreement was signed just 10 days before it became public knowledge that Auditor General Sheila Fraser was conducting an audit of Ouimet’s turmoil-ridden office.

"This is unacceptable," said Normand Desjardins, former chief investigator with the commission. He says he quit after being screamed at by Ouimet in 2008.

"I retired before age 60. So I was penalized by roughly one-fifth on my pension," the 59-year-old said in an interview, branding Ouimet's recently disclosed payout a "golden retirement gift."

"It is very ironic. I get penalized and she got a half a million dollars to resign because she couldn't do her job."

... In her report, Fraser said staff complaints about Ouimet's behaviour were well founded. Employees had complained that Ouimet "yelled, swore and also berated, marginalized and intimidated certain PSIC employees and that she engaged in reprisal actions."

Between August 2007 and July 2009, average turnover at the office was over 50 per cent a year.

... The integrity commissioner's office was set up in 2007 to protect public servants who blow the whistle on wrongdoing within the federal government.

Fraser found that 228 allegations of public service wrongdoing or reprisals against whistleblowers were brought to the integrity commissioner’s office during Ouimet’s three-year tenure. Only seven investigations were launched and no findings of wrongdoing were issued.

... In one instance, Fraser said Ouimet retaliated against a former employee whom she believed had filed a complaint with the auditor general about her behaviour. In fact, the man, who'd resigned months earlier, had not yet filed a complaint and only did so later as a result of Ouimet's reprisals.

Fraser found Ouimet compiled 375 pages of information on the former employee in four binders; circulated at least 50 emails about him; disclosed personal information about him to his previous employer, senior government officials and a private security consultant; and tried to access his personnel file from his previous employer in a bid to launch a security investigation that targeted the man and three other former commission employees.

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