The former public-sector integrity commissioner who retired last fall in the face of a damning audit says the MPs who want to question her will have to wait until April.
In a letter to the Commons public accounts committee, lawyers for Christiane Ouimet say their client is out of the country and unavailable to testify but she would be happy to appear when she returns to Canada in two months' time.
“My personal sense, and I think the way that I read the committee, is that there is probably not a lot of patience with that in as much as we have made efforts for two months to get a hold of her,” committee chairman Joe Volpe, a Liberal MP from Toronto, said in a telephone interview on Monday.
“The committee is determined to get answers, in very large part driven by a sincere desire not to see an individual’s reputation carried through the mud by not giving her an opportunity to answer some questions,” Mr. Volpe added.
The damning report, which was completed by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser, found that during the three years Ms. Ouimet was head of the agency that fields complaints from public-sector whistleblowers, there were 228 disclosures of wrongdoing. Seven were investigated. Five were closed with no finding of wrongdoing, and two remained under investigation at the time of Ms. Fraser's audit.
The audit also found that Ms. Ouimet harassed and berated her employees and sought reprisals against those she suspected of trying to undermine her.
The committee cannot wait for another couple of months to continue its investigation into the audit’s findings, Mr. Volpe said.
On the other hand, it has no ability to force Ms. Ouimet to return to Canada. “You can send a subpoena anywhere but the committee doesn’t have the power to physically bring somebody back,” he said.
The committee sent a bailiff to Ms. Ouimet’s east-Ottawa two weeks ago week to serve an official summons. That summons went unanswered and Ms. Ouimet was a no-show at last week’s public accounts committee.
But the letter from her lawyers, Heenan- Blaikie, arrived a day later.
Ms. Ouimet, a career civil servant with 25 years in the upper ranks of the federal bureaucracy, was named the first integrity commissioner in 2007 by the Conservative government. She has not spoken publicly since her retirement.