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A witness chair sits empty after Christiane Ouimet, former public sector integrity commissioner, failed to appear at the Commons public accounts committee to discuss the report of the Auditor General as it pertains to her former department on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday Feb. 8, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A witness chair sits empty after Christiane Ouimet, former public sector integrity commissioner, failed to appear at the Commons public accounts committee to discuss the report of the Auditor General as it pertains to her former department on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday Feb. 8, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

Christiane Ouimet, explain yourself Add to ...

It is time for Christiane Ouimet, the former public sector integrity commissioner, to come out of hiding.

She needs to explain to Canadians why she chose to investigate just seven of 228 complaints about wrongdoing in the federal public sector, and why she bullied, berated and intimidated her underlings. Those are the conclusions of last December's scathing report by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser. Ms. Fraser, who interviewed 34 former and current employees of the office, concluded that Ms. Ouimet engaged in retaliatory actions against her own staff, and her office had a turnover rate of 50 per cent.

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Yet instead of providing answers, Ms. Ouimet has thumbed her nose at a formal summons ordering her to appear at a Commons committee to testify about her job performance. She has ducked phone calls and written requests for more than four weeks. For alleged abuse of public office, this bears comparison with Ron Stewart, who was forced to repay $112,000 in 2004 for expenses that didn't relate to his former job as head of the Office of the Correctional Investigator.

The Conservative government brought in the Federal Accountability Act to prevent exactly these kinds of incidents, and appointed Ms. Ouimet as part of this effort in 2007.

Answers need to be provided not only by Ms. Ouimet, but also about the process that led to her hiring. "For the functioning of the system, Parliament must have a reasonable assurance that the people appointed as its agents are competent to do their jobs," said Ned Franks, professor emeritus at Queen's University.

The public needs to hear from Ms. Ouimet, and to have its confidence restored that the appointments process for the heads of quasi-judicial bodies is as transparent and effective as it can be.

Ms. Ouimet, who abruptly left her job last fall just three years into her seven-year term, is only delaying the inevitable. The House can now issue a warrant commanding her to appear, and if she ignores that, Ms. Ouimet could suffer greater humiliation, including imprisonment. It is time for her to demonstrate some accountability, and give her own version of how she believed she was enforcing the government's Accountability Act.

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