In the wake of the firings of several Health Ministry researchers four years ago, the B.C. government had no answers, no explanation. The Opposition and those affected by the firings have encountered nothing but roadblocks in their quest for answers. A lawyer asked to review the incident reported she couldn’t get to the bottom of it because she couldn’t find the documentation that would normally accompany such actions.
Now B.C. ombudsperson Jay Chalke’s investigation has been handed nearly four million documents apparently related to the review.
This scandal has gone from the ridiculous to the absurd. But it is no comedy — careers were put on hold or ended, reputations were besmirched and one person took his own life. The controversy has dragged on far too long, and still no end is in sight.
In September 2012, on her first day on the job as health minister, Margaret MacDiarmid announced that an investigation had revealed serious allegations of inappropriate data access and conflicts of interest. She was like the character in a horror movie, staring at some monstrous threat off-camera that was never revealed to the audience.
“This was the first thing I was briefed on, and my reaction was disbelief. I was shocked,” she said. She offered no details, no explanations, other than to say the RCMP would be asked to investigate, which never happened.
Subsequent investigations were themselves flawed or woefully constrained, turning up little more than the fact that basic human-resources rules were violated, which was already painfully obvious.
Initial shock and horror were eventually replaced by abject apologies, reinstatement for some employees and settlements for others, all too late for researcher Roderick MacIsaac who, his budding career apparently in ruins, killed himself.
Still, no substantive explanation.
Then suddenly, the vacuum of information has been filled with what appears to be a document dump. That nearly four million documents exist that are pertinent to the issue stretches credulity.
It could be vicious compliance: “You want documents? I’ll show you documents!”
Or it could be full co-operation: “I have nothing to hide. Here is everything on my hard drive.”
Or it could be an attempted coverup: “Let’s give them so many documents, they won’t be able to sort anything out — at least until after the next election.”
Regardless, that mass of documents gets in the way, and we hope the ombudsperson’s staff can quickly eliminate the trivial and unrelated documents and get to the heart of the matter: Who ordered the firings and why?
When someone is disciplined in the workplace or fired, proper procedure demands that certain steps be taken and every step be documented. If those documents don’t exist, the firings were not justified.
The issue is not what alleged transgressions led to the firings, but the process involved. To call it flawed is too gentle a description. This is one of the worst human-resources blunders in the history of Canadian public service, and yet no one has been called to account; no one has explained what really happened and why.
And it threatens to drag on, never ending, never reaching closure. It brings to mind the Dave Basi-Bob Virk case, in which the two ministerial aides pleaded guilty to corruption charges connected to the privatization of B.C. Rail. In exchange for their guilty pleas, the government paid $6 million in legal fees for the two men, but we will never know why. The judge denied the auditor general’s request for pertinent documents on the grounds it would violate solicitor-client privilege.
We hope, but not with much optimism, that the Health Ministry scandal does not end that way.