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Incoming Public Service boss held key Health Ministry post amid controversial firings and rehirings

A senior bureaucrat from the troubled Ministry of Health will succeed Lynda Tarras as head of the Public Service Agency later this fall, The Tyee has learned.

Chief administrative officer Elaine McKnight has served as associate deputy minister and chief administrative officer since February 2012. She becomes head of the government's human resources agency on Nov. 3.

On Oct. 3, Health Minister Terry Lake announced Tarras would review the 2012 firings of seven people connected to a government-funded drug research program. Three have reached out-of-court settlements that included public apologies from the government. Two of the three returned to their jobs. Medical research student Roderick MacIsaac died of suicide in December 2012.

"We will assess the human resource and investigation procedures and practices utilized in responding to the allegations, and she will make recommendations where required for improving the procedures and practices for human resources and management staff to follow in responding to these types of matters," Health Minister Terry Lake said in Question Period on Oct. 7.

Tarras was paid $219,084 for the year ended March 31, 2014. McKnight was paid $209,537.

McKnight was previously assistant deputy minister in the Health Ministry's information management and information technology division. In March 2012, the month after McKnight was promoted, the Ministry was informed by the Office of the Auditor General about alleged contracting and research irregularities. Not until Margaret MacDiarmid succeeded Mike de Jong as Minister of Health in September 2012 did the matter become public.

A statement from the Public Service Agency said McKnight "brings a proven track record in leadership roles over the past 20 years." She also previously held the post of Deputy Minister of Workplace Technology Solutions in the Ministry of Citizens' Service.

A Freedom of Information request for MacDiarmid's briefing binder filed when she was appointed to be Minister was not released until after MacDiarmid lost her Vancouver Fairview riding to George Heyman of the NDP in the May 2013 election. MacDiarmid was later named a director of Vancouver Coastal Health.

In Question Period on Oct. 7, NDP Health Critic Judy Darcy said the Premier's office is withholding information about what may have been a pivotal Aug. 15, 2012 meeting between Tarras, Premier Christy Clark's Deputy Minister John Dyble and Deputy Minister of Health Graham Whitmarsh.

"Can the Minister of Health confirm that this meeting was held to brief John Dyble on the health care firings and the government's plan to send the matter to the RCMP?" Darcy asked.

Answered Lake: "All of the information, as I mentioned, surrounding the actions and events that took place and also recommendations to prevent the type of action that we now know, in some cases, was inappropriate from ever happening again. We will be happy to share that report in full with the public as soon as it is made available."

The government is also withholding all records related to the final report on the Ministry of Health's alleged data breaches after a May 21 FOI request by The Tyee. The government's Aug. 6 response claims the records contain legal advice and disclosure would be harmful to law enforcement. An appeal has been filed with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Whitmarsh was among three deputy ministers axed June 6, 2013, the day before Clark announced her post-election cabinet. Whitmarsh was to be paid a $461,643 golden parachute.

Earlier this year, Whitmarsh opened the Tangram1 consultancy, which includes Lynda Cranston and Jon Schubert. Schubert resigned as ICBC's CEO in fall 2012 after a government report critical of ballooning management salaries. Cranston was forced to resign by the PHSA board when she gave $660,000 in unauthorized raises to 187 managers, in contravention of a government pay freeze.

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since 1990. Find his Tyee articles here.

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