By Trevor Busch
Town council wants more time to weigh its options before signing up for an annual fee structure through MNP LLP for administration of the town’s whistleblower hotline.
Since 2015, MNP LLP has been actively engaged in this process for the municipality under the services of a Whistleblower and Ethics Alert hotline provided to the organization. According to administration, MNP LLP has advised the town that they have a new service offering, as well as enhancements taking “these features into the future. Of major note is the cost difference, the development of a web portal, and fraud training inclusion.”
The billing structure has changed from a per-complaint basis to an annual $5,000 fee to cover complaints.
“I do not believe we have ever had a call related to an ethics matter pertaining to a councillor or an employee,” said CAO Cory Armfelt at council’s Aug. 20 regular meeting, responding to a inquiry from Coun. Jack Brewin. “There have been calls made to this hotline that have been passed on to the Taber Police Service for investigation, but nothing having to do with administration or council from a behavioral perspective.”
Under the policy, individual employees who witness “wrongdoing” within the organization will contact an impartial third party designated by the town (MNP LLP) to report concerns and allegations. This independent third party will then review the information provided and determine if further action might be warranted, and then refer any findings to a review committee which would determine a course of action.
Administration’s recommended motion was to authorize Mayor Andrew Prokop and CAO Cory Armfelt to execute MNP LLP’s engagement letter for services pertaining to the Whistleblower Hotline and Ethics Alert, in accordance with the Whistleblower Policy and Procedure ADM-6.
“I don’t see the benefit of the $5,000, unless there’s lots of education component to this,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas. “I’m not quite sure, this isn’t spelled out clear enough. At this point, I can’t support this resolution here.”
Benefits of a whistleblower policy can include creating a positive work environment, implementation of measures to deter fraud and misconduct, and demonstrating to employees and the public that misconduct will not be tolerated.
Alleged misconduct can include violations of law, rules, regulations, and direct threats to public interest, such as fraud, health and safety violations, and corruption.
Coun. Louie Tams suggested administration look into alternatives to MNP LLP as a service provider before making any final decision.
“Administration certainly could check it out, and see if there’s anybody else who would provide this service for free,” said Armfelt.
Whistleblowers are protected in Canada, and employers who use employment-related intimidation or retaliation against a whistleblower are subject to criminal liability under Sec. 425.1 of the Criminal Code.
Prokop was also hesitant to approve the fee structure.
“It seems to me, overall, they’re going to get paid if there’s an investigation requirement. This seems to be an add on. They offered it for free initially, I don’t know why they wouldn’t go any further. That would be my suggestion, if there’s a way to look into this further for other options.”
In Alberta, whistleblowers also enjoy protections under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (2013), which applies to the Alberta public service, provincial agencies, boards and commissions, as well as academic institutions, school boards, and health organizations.
Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan have all adopted similar public interest disclosure acts.
Administrative services manager Kerry Van Ham pointed out that if council chose not to endorse MNP LLP’s fee structure, the town’s policy would be defunct until it found another potential provider to administer the service.
“I think before we approve this, we need to direct administration to go back and look if there’s other alternatives to MNP,” said Tams. “Because I’m quite uncomfortable — it’s doesn’t sound like a big number, $5,000, but we haven’t really used the service, so it’s a huge number.”
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to defer a decision on MNP LLP’s fee structure to a future meeting, pending investigation of different methods of obtaining the service.
The original policy and procedure was approved by council in May 2015. MNP LLP were engaged as administrators in June 2015.