Public service boss kept no records of health firings

The head of B.C.’s public service apparently never kept any records related to the firing of eight drug researchers during the two-year period when the provincial government was under heavy fire for its handling of the case, documents show.

The NDP submitted a comprehensive freedom of information request to Premier Christy Clark’s office last year, seeking all emails, briefing notes, correspondence and other reports on the case that were sent or received by her deputy minister, John Dyble, between May 1, 2012, and July 23, 2014.

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The Opposition also asked for related records sent or received by Clark’s office, as well as those exchanged between Dyble and the deputy minister of health.

In an August 2014 letter, the government replied that it did a “thorough search” but “no records were located in response to your request.”

That letter was released by the NDP on Tuesday in the wake of privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s recent report that concluded Liberal political staff routinely violate the freedom of information law.

Denham said her investigation uncovered “negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches, and the wilful destruction of records responsive to an access request.”

The NDP said the dearth of documents on the firings further confirms the Clark government’s “culture of concealment” and deception.

“So the head of the public service didn’t have a single record over two years about the biggest human resources scandal in B.C. history,” NDP critic Katrine Conroy told the legislature. “Forgive us if we find that a bit hard to swallow.”

Conroy said that raises questions about Clark’s decision last week to put Dyble in charge of co-ordinating freedom of information in her office.

“How exactly is a man who produces no records, while working in the premier’s office, going to ensure that that same office starts keeping records?” Conroy asked.

Clark defended Dyble’s “exemplary” record in the civil service and criticized the NDP for impugning his reputation. But she never explained why he was unable to produce a single document from a period when the government fired eight employees and contractors amid a flawed investigation into alleged privacy breaches.

One of the researchers, Roderick MacIsaac, committed suicide in 2012. The health minister has since apologized for the firings, and the government rehired some employees and settled with others.

The government’s investigation was reviewed last year by Victoria lawyer Marcia McNeil, who found that it was flawed, plagued by preconceived notions of wrongdoing and unfair to the accused. McNeil was unable to determine who ordered the firings, and a second review, by B.C. ombudsperson Jay Chalke, is underway.

NDP Leader John Horgan said it’s hard to believe that the premier’s office is operating without keeping records. “But, yet, that appears to be the case,” he said in an interview. “The public is not well served when senior representatives — being paid a princely sum, to boot — are not recording their actions on a daily basis. That is, in my opinion, an affront to our basic institutions.”

Denham warned in her report that the problems threaten the integrity of access to information in B.C.

Clark responded by ordering all political staff in ministries to stop deleting emails until the government acts on Denham’s recommendations. The province has hired former privacy commissioner David Loukidelis to provide advice and assist with training.

The premier also pledged to make Dyble responsible for co-ordinating freedom of information in her office, and to strengthen documenting and tracking of access requests.

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