The whistleblower at the centre of the August 27, 2015 finding of wrongdoing at the department of Innovation and Advanced Education knew he was witnessing wrongdoing.
The whistleblower reported that the manager was directing the manipulation of procurement documents at the department, as well as the arms-length agency Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures. The department’s ranking system was used to rank potential vendors for contracts worth more than $100,000 each. These assessments were entered on spreadsheets, giving each candidate an overall ranking.
“I knew it was not the right process,” said the whistleblower, whose identity is being kept anonymous as it was through the course of the Commissioner’s investigation. “It seemed like something was up. I knew it was wrong, and it was surprising to me no one had said anything about it. I know that everybody wants that government contract, but you should be able to get it on merit. Not necessarily based on who you know. You want it because you can do the job, not because you know a person.”
He eventually learned about the Public Interest Commissioner’s office – and it was thanks to one of several of our posters hanging on a wall in his unit’s office. The posters displayed the Commissioner’s website address. The whistleblower visited the site, learned a bit about our office, and after consulting his local MLA, set up a meeting with our investigators.
“It was legitimately that poster that brought me to the office,” he said.
It turns out that contacting the Public Interest Commissioner was the easy part. Sticking with the process proved more challenging.
“It wasn’t difficult at first, but sticking was the most difficult part,” he said. “Just how rampant the wrongdoing was, and how often it happens, you start questioning everything, saying to yourself, ‘Am I naive? Everybody probably already knows this anyway, so what am I doing?’ But I think that happens in too many situations in life. People tend to go with the flow. There were a couple times in speaking with the investigator, and I’d get recommitted once I found out how the investigation was going. But it’s tough.”
Luckily, he points out the Commissioner’s lead investigator on the case always kept him up to speed on new developments, and informed him of options at every step. Between that and the desire to see real change come about at the end of the investigation, the whistleblower was able to get through the process.
“There were a lot of days where it was stressful,” he said. “It felt pretty lonely at times, but I got some motivation from the MLA and the investigator. The investigator would never tell me what to do. He would always provide me information and explain the scenarios and the circumstances. It was up to me to figure out. I knew the longer I was there and the longer I stuck with it, the better the clout the investigation would have at the end of the day. I just wanted to make a difference. I knew the investigation would end up making some sort of change and identifying what I knew. That was motivating.”
The whistleblower says working with the office proved easy, and that he felt the right mix of support and protection.
“Dealing with this office was awesome. I was assured by this office I would be protected, and that was the encouragement I needed to come forward.”
His advice to someone working in government or another entity under the jurisdiction of the Public Interest Commissioner (like a post-secondary institution, Alberta Health Services, or a school board)? Ultimately, he says, it’s a personal choice.
“You have to wake up in the morning and you have to look yourself in the mirror. You know what you’re doing. Some people are OK with that, which is why it’s so nice to have this office, because that’s not how things are supposed to go.
“I can say that this office did everything in its power to protect me. That’s encouraging. And it’s encouraging that we never had to deal with the reprisal part of it. That’s a part of the legislation that I’m not familiar with, and thankfully so.
“The finding of wrongdoing vindicates it and validates it. Of course, there’s wrong and there’s wrongdoing. Even identifying the wrong, people take it seriously and take it to the higher-ups. You can start to stimulate that change. We’re living in Canada, in Alberta, and you expect the best of the best, especially from your public services. So, it’s good to have this option. It absolutely is.”