Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin believes a new policy to protect whistleblowers at City Hall will help strengthen public faith in city operations.
The policy is being developed in response to a slate of recommendations presented to council by the City’s external auditor, KPMG, in April.
“You want to ensure that employees are confident that their concerns will be taken seriously, and that if they bring forward a concern, it will not jeopardize them in any way,” Fortin said. “By putting it into a formal policy, it’s something employees and residents can rely on.”
While the provincial and federal governments have whistleblower policies in place, only a select number of Island municipalities have done the same.
Central Saanich developed its whistleblower policy in 2006 as part of a code of ethics for employees. In addition to providing confidentiality assurances, the policy requires that the mayor is notified and an investigation is launched in a timely manner.
Victoria’s policy will similarly protect staff who bring forward concerns of fraudulent financial reporting, false overtime claims and other potential misconduct inside City Hall.
“I think it’s about time,” said John Burrows, president of CUPE local 50, the union representing City of Victoria employees. “It’s been kind of a missing link with municipal employees, and it gives people a comfort zone to come forward.”
Fortin said a whistleblower policy will also clearly illustrate the steps that need to be taken by management and councillors in the event of concerns being raised.
Ross Crockford, a stalwart critic of the City’s initial inaccurate cost estimates for the Johnson Street Bridge project, said the policy will only be useful if staff are compelled to come forward by keeping councillors in the loop on all city operations.
“I’m interested in seeing whether they’re going to create a code of conduct and what that says, because there have been a bunch of situations with the (Johnson Street) bridge where it’s become apparent after the fact that staff knew certain things were going wonky and didn’t tell council,” Crockford said.
Burrows said the primary goal of any whistleblower policy is to control spending and shed light on potential “tax-dollar wasting enterprises.”
Council is expected to see the final whistleblower policy, an employee code of conduct and recommendations to improve internal auditing procedures this fall.