B.C.’s provincial chief veterinary officer is quitting after being accused by a civil servant of insubordination and lack of support for government policies.
A blistering letter, written last month to provincial veterinarian Paul Kitching by Melanie Stewart, Agriculture Ministry assistant deputy minister, was the final blow-up in a struggle over the direction and finances of the plant and animal health branch.
The letter from Stewart and Kitching’s reply were obtained by the Times Colonist.
“There have been too many miscommunications between us,” Kitching’s letter concludes. “I no longer have trust in your leadership and recognize that I can no longer work with you as my line manager. I therefore give notice of my intention to retire.”
That pre-empted Stewart’s threat to fire him.
“Should you decide not to adjust your attitude and actions accordingly, I may be required to take further disciplinary action up to and including dismissal for cause. It is up to you,” she wrote.
The letter from Stewart said Kitching was not addressing “budgetary challenges,” was reluctant to comply with travel restrictions and “demonstrating complacency and negativity with respect to ministry-wide planning and workforce engagement initiatives.”
Kitching, 64, who is on leave until he officially retires March 1, said when contacted at home that it was never his intention to retire at this time. “But I am a little constrained in what I can say because I am still a public servant.”
That means he cannot talk to reporters without permission from the government communications branch, he said.
Stewart wrote that financial mismanagement found in an audit “shows a lack of attention to such issues by you, as the director responsible.”
In response, Kitching said Stewart had disregarded all suggestions. “I have repeatedly explained the difficulty of operating within a decreasing fixed budget when our variable costs are increasing and are not discretionary to our work. … The more work we do, the higher the risk we have of being over budget,” he wrote.
A flash point came over Stewart’s decision to advertise for a branch business manager, who would report to her, not to Kitching. That was followed by Stewart telling Kitching to attend a meeting in Victoria the next day, but he replied he already had a staff meeting organized.
“The foregoing conduct is inappropriate and insubordinate and clearly not an acceptable way to interact with one’s supervisor,” Stewart wrote.
Kitching responded: “Our management styles are clearly different. I include my staff in ‘the loop.’ I do not cancel meetings on a moment’s notice and I respect their respective expertise.”
Kitching, who lectures internationally, was previously head of the World Reference Laboratory for Foot and Mouth Disease in the U.K. and came to Canada to head the Canadian Food Inspection Agency laboratory in Winnipeg. He joined the B.C. animal health centre as assistant chief veterinarian in 2008 and took over the top post the following year.
Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said he has not seen the letters. “I received a note from staff in late January saying Dr. Kitching was going to retire … and I wish him the best in his future endeavours,” he said.
The position will be filled on an interim basis by Jane Pritchard, Letnick said.
The animal and plant health branch has received $4 million a year for the last three years, he said. “We are all doing our best to provide the best services for taxpayers’ dollars and I am sure the laboratory is doing that.”
NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham said she is concerned about a change in the top position when the branch is dealing with important issues such as animal-health legislation and food safety.
“And I am concerned that someone with this international reputation wouldn’t be our provincial veterinarian anymore.”
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