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Tyee legislative reporter sets agenda on health ministry firings review

Tyee reporter Andrew MacLeod's dogged reporting on the latest health ministry revelations dominated Thursday's Question Period in Victoria. After that, nearly every scribe, columnist and pundit in the legislative press gallery cited MacLeod's scoop.

MacLeod, our legislative bureau chief in Victoria, has been on the government for months about the extraordinary firings of seven health ministry staffers in 2012. Those firings ruined reputations and changed lives. One of the fired employees, Roderick MacIsaac, killed himself.

The government has since backed down and even apologized. But it's never explained why it publicly fired the employees in the first place. At the time, there were allegations of breach of privacy and conflict of interest. But no charges were ever laid.

Finally, last month, the government announced a review to probe what led to the firings that Premier Christy Clark said would get to the bottom of what happened.

Enter Graham Whitmarsh, the former deputy health minister, himself fired last year. Now sidelined, he's worried that the review will point the blame at him, thanks to things Clark and others have said publicly. So he contacted the government to air his concerns.*

A lengthy back-and-forth ensued between Whitmarsh's lawyer and government officials. The money quote from the Whitmarsh camp? "Mr. Whitmarsh is extremely concerned that the (terms) of the review reflect the intention at the highest levels of government to find a convenient scapegoat, namely Mr. Whitmarsh."

Whitmarsh shared those exchanges with MacLeod this week. The result: an ever-deepening suspicion that the government review is itself tainted.

Deputy attorney general Richard Fyfe described the review as "not a fault-finding mission," rather, a second look at the process that led to the decision to fire the individuals.

Vancouver Sun Columnist Vaughn Palmer said the Whitmarsh correspondence underscores the limitations of the government review. Quoting New Democrat Nicholas Simons, the government review is like "a review of nothing," Palmer wrote.

And the CBC released all 37 pages of documents upon which Andrew based his news-breaking story.

On Friday, CBC Radio's Friday political panel in Victoria weighed in. All three -- Martyn Brown, chief of staff to former premier Gordon Campbell, Norman Spector, a journalist and communications consultant, and Elizabeth Cull, a onetime NDP cabinet minister -- said the Whitmarsh letters speak volumes about the direction of the review.

"Graham Whitmarsh is quite right to be worried that (the government) is trying to lay the blame at his feet," Brown said, adding the letters highlight the need for an independent review.

There's no doubt MacLeod's reporting helped ensure this story stayed front and centre. The government review is due Dec. 19.

Jane Armstrong is the Tyee's editor in chief.

*Edited for clarity.

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