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Health Managers Interfering in Investigation into Botched Firings, Dix Says

Email told employees to consult ministry managers before providing evidence to Ombudsperson.

By Andrew MacLeod 13 Jan 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Roderick MacIsaac killed himself more than four years ago after botched health ministry firings.

Health ministry managers appear to have interfered with the provincial ombudsperson’s review of botched firings in 2012, says NDP MLA Adrian Dix.

Dix wrote Health Minister Terry Lake and Deputy Minister Stephen Brown Thursday setting out his concern that employees were told to meet with managers if they were asked to provide information to Ombudsperson Jay Chalke as part of the review.

“I have recently received information suggesting that your Ministry may have interfered with the... investigation,” Dix wrote. “I understand that employees of the Ministry of Health who have been asked to attend interviews with the Ombudsperson have been instructed to... immediately inform Health Ministry management and meet with management before attending Ombudsperson interviews.”

A ministry spokesperson provided Lake’s response to the letter from Dix.

It says that staff in one program area were sent such an email, but the intention was to let them know support was available. The ministry later clarified for employees that the Ombudsperson's review is confidential and they are not required to disclose whether they’ve participated, Lake’s letter said.

In 2012 seven people were fired from the ministry over what officials said at the time were breaches in data management, contracting and possible conflicts of interest. Government officials, including Premier Christy Clark, have since admitted there were serious problems with the process that led to the firings.

Some employees have returned to work, five lawsuits were settled out of court and one of those fired, Roderick MacIsaac, committed suicide. The Ombudsperson’s office is now investigating what government decision-makers did wrong. A previous investigation by Victoria labour lawyer Marcia McNeil failed to answer key questions about who ordered the firings and why.

Dix’s letter said health ministry employees have also been told to “share with Health Ministry management any evidence such as emails and correspondence that they intend to provide the Ombudsperson.”

He also asked Lake if employees are also being asked to meet with ministry management after being interviewed by the Ombudsperson.

“If senior Health Ministry staff have in fact been questioning people regarding their interactions with the Ombudsperson — before or after their interviews — then this raises serious concerns about the Ministry’s commitment to the effectiveness and integrity of the Ombudsperson process,” he wrote.

“Any actual or perceived attempt by the Ministry to (i) influence witness testimony or (ii) glean information about a private and confidential investigation would be grossly improper,” he said. “The role of witnesses is to tell the truth about what happened. It is not to defend the political and administrative interests of the Liberal government.”

The NDP released an email that had been sent to ministry employees on April 25, 2016, by Kelly Moran, executive director of information and knowledge services in the ministry’s health sector information, analysis and reporting division.

“If any of you are contacted by the Ombudsperson’s staff to answer questions or for an interview please touch base with me prior to proceeding,” Moran wrote.

The email also reminded them that the government’s Employee and Family Assistance Program was available if they needed it.

Dix questioned the email’s purpose.

“This is the management of government, which is the subject of this investigation, overseeing what less senior employees do,” Dix said in an interview. “It's a request from a supervisor.”

Lake’s written response said the intent was to provide support to the employees, letting them know that both legal and counselling services would be provided.

“This email was later clarified for staff that the Ministry's role is to identify the resources available to them if staff inquire,” he wrote. “The Ministry further clarified that all investigations conducted by the Office of the Ombudsperson are confidential under the Ombudsperson Act, and that an employee who is invited to participate as a witness in the Ombudsperson’s investigation is not required to disclose that fact to Ministry executive, their supervisor, or colleagues.”

“If any employee does disclose that they have been asked to provide evidence as a witness, that employee is not required to discuss with anyone in the Ministry the details of the evidence that they provide to the Ombudsperson,” Lake wrote.

A ministry spokesperson could not immediately supply the clarifying materials Lake referred to in his letter.

Lake wrote that the government has been fully cooperating with the review.

Dix said that since the firings the government has made every effort to protect senior managers and push any blame downwards.

The McNeil review showed a system-wide effort to avoid taking ownership of the decision to fire the employees, he said.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, BC Politics

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