Missed opportunities in the health firings

Five of nine key players named in Chalke's report were in government in 2001, three more by 2005 and one by 2007.
Five of nine key players named in Chalke's report were in government in 2001, three more by 2005 and one by 2007.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.”

It's the missed opportunities over the 2012 healthy ministry firings that will forever haunt the B.C. government.

Instead of seizing opportunities to set the record straight, Ombudsperson Jay Chalke's report – Misfire: the 2012 Ministry of Health Employment Terminations – pointed to a pattern of falsehood piled upon falsehood.

The term used in text messages to describe the government's approach throughout the debacle would be CYA.

Chalke found that the case against Roderick MacIsaac “was unsupported by the evidence and untrue.” Something the government knew full well by Nov. 2012, but no one could even pick up the phone while Roderick was still alive to tell him.

A tragic missed opportunity.

By the fall of 2013, the government knew that virtually everything their case had been predicated on had fallen out from under them, but no one said a word.

Another missed opportunity.

Premier Clark stretched the truth with her characterization of Victoria lawyer Marcia McNeil's pending 2014 review into the firings, telling the legislature: “It is important that we get to the bottom of it, and that is what we hope to do. (McNeil) has full authority to speak with anyone she wants to in government.”

No third-party review of the Premier's comments was required for the upper echelons inside government to immediately know Clark had mispoke, but no one corrected the record.

Another missed opportunity.

By spring 2015, the government knew the RCMP had declined to investigate, but no one said a peep.

Another missed opportunity.

There was the three-year comptroller general's investigation that went from finding “substantial merit” to most of the whistleblower's claims to a report that “contained statements that were untrue” in a matter of weeks.

Yet, when the Vancouver Sun published details from that report nearly a year later, no one saw fit to own up to it.

Quite the opposite, in fact. 

In an interview, health minister Terry Lake doubled down telling the Sun: “This was an investigation done by professional civil servants, not under the direction or direct control of politicians but carried out by professional public servants. They did their work.”

Another missed opportunity.

You walk away from Chalke's report with a better sense of how this happened than you do why it happened?

Why couldn't government veterans satisfy a whistleblower on points where she was mistaken and fix what she may have been right about?

No one seems to have applied the brakes for a sober second thought.

These weren't rookies.

Five of nine key players named in Chalke's report were in government in 2001, three more by 2005 and one by 2007.

All were earning six-figure salaries in 2011/12, two of them more than $200,000.

Five of the nine have since been promoted, with three jumping into the $200,000 plus salary bracket and one – John Dyble – breaking $300,000 before retiring last year.

The head of the Public Sector Agency, Lynda Tarras, retired in 2014, after breaking the $200,000 bar.

The media relations manager whose name appears at the end of the still very public 2012 RCMP news release was promoted, seeing his salary jump from $75,574 to $110,158.

At least two others – not named in Chalke's report – were also promoted.

Last month, B.C.'s auditor general, Carol Bellringer, released her office's audit of B.C. public service ethics management. 

In it she noted: “In the last two years, only half of employees who observed unethical behaviour in their workplace came forward to report what they saw. Of those who didn’t report, just over half said they were afraid to.” 

This week in an editorial – “A reason to be afraid” – the Times Colonist wrote: “Having trampled over due process and basic fairness, they then apparently lost all sense of proportion when it came time to terminate (Ron) Mattson’s employment.

“Please note: The person who led the biased, incompetent investigation into Mattson and the others, who threw innocent people to the wolves, still works for the province. Government employees, be afraid.”

It would seem – based on Bellringer's findings – many already are.

There is one opportunity that needn't be missed: take the September 2012 news release down.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC