Shooting the Messenger

Holding Ministers to a Higher Standard

Ministers of the Crown are ultimately responsible for whistleblowers finding themselves on the receiving end of so much grief for simply doing the right thing. If Ministers held themselves to a higher standard of conduct and expected their officials to do the same there would be little or no need for whistleblowers.

Joe Clark was your typical Minister at Foreign Affairs. The former Prime Minister held his officials to the most minimum of standards: “make me look good, or at least don’t make me look bad, and you can have the run of the place.”


If Clark had held Massé to a higher standard of conduct, one that included a high ethical component, there probably would not have been a Sponsorship Scandal.

In testimony before the Gomery Commission, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien informed the committee that the suggestion for the sponsorship slush fund came from Marcel Massé.

Right after the referendum, I asked Marcel Masse (sic), then minister of intergovernmental affairs, to chair a cabinet committee to make recommendations to me on an action plan for national unity.

After accepting Mr. Massé’s suggestions, the former Prime Minister made him President of Treasury Board, the government agency most responsible for ensuring that taxpayer’s money is not misused and is properly accounted for.

If instead of letting Massé make an example of me, Joe Clark had made an example of Massé, the following would never have happened:

The Auditor General of Canada has confirmed serious problems in the federal government's management of its Sponsorship Program for a four-year period beginning in 1997. Most significant was the widespread non-compliance with the rules, which extended to five major Crown corporations and agencies, according to Sheila Fraser in her Report tabled today in the House of Commons.

In that four-year period, the Sponsorship Program consumed $250 million of taxpayers' money, and more than $100 million of that amount went to communications agencies in fees and commissions.

Office of the Auditor General of Canada

News Release, Ottawa, 10 February 2004.

Foreign Affairs officials, in particular should be held to a much higher standard, for not only are they representing Canada abroad, but the Department’s largely undeserved reputation for competence and propriety means that alumni from the Department easily gravitate to the highest level of the bureaucracy and the body politic. This is not good.