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Government Claims Action on Almost All Recommendations in Botched Health Firings

Work will continue ‘to ensure that such tragic events could never happen again,’ update says.

By Andrew MacLeod 2 May 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

The British Columbia government says it has delivered on all but two of the 41 recommendations that Ombudsperson Jay Chalke made a year ago in his report on “wrong and injust” health ministry firings.

“The Public Service has a responsibility to treat its employees with professionalism and respect, and as described in the Misfire report, we fell far short of acceptable standards,” Don Wright, the deputy minister to Premier John Horgan, wrote in an April 30 letter to Chalke.

In 2012 the health ministry fired six employees directly and a seventh was constructively dismissed. The firings resulted in five wrongful dismissal and defamation lawsuits that were settled out of court, a union grievance process, some of the employees returning to work and two major investigations. One of the fired employees, Roderick MacIsaac, committed suicide.

In April 2017 Chalke’s office released a 487-page report on the firings titled “Misfire: The 2012 Ministry of Health Employment Terminations and Related Matters.” The report confirmed that the firings were unjustified and should never have happened.

“Once again, on behalf of the Public Service, I offer a heartfelt and unqualified apology for the harm caused to the impacted individuals and those closest to them,” Wright wrote this week. “I remain acutely aware that an apology cannot erase the harms caused by the events described in the Misfire report. I do hope, however, that the systemic changes and reparations will in some small way lessen the effect.”

The government is still working on reviewing the settlements it made with the BC Government Employees’ Union members who were fired. Retired judge Thomas Cromwell is reviewing submissions from the employees, and the government expects his recommendations in the coming weeks, Wright’s letter said.

It is also still working on an “organizational reconciliation program” in the health ministry. “The program, created with the participation of all employees in the Ministry of Health and aimed at charting a path toward re-establishing respectful, professional relationships within a vibrant workplace, has been launched and will culminate in the delivery of a final report.”

The other 39 recommendations from Chalke’s report have been completed, Wright’s letter said. They include the recent introduction of public interest disclosure legislation “to provide for the reporting, assessment, fair investigation, and resolution of allegations about wrongful conduct within the B.C. government.”

The government has also expanded the role of the Merit Commissioner to review any dismissals, created new standards for public service investigations, and created guidelines for assessing whether conflicts of interest exist.

“Though we have actioned all the recommendations there is still significant work to do,” Wright wrote. That includes the need to bring new legislation into force and act on any recommendations Cromwell makes on “ex gratia” payments as compensation for those affected.

“Organizational reconciliation in the Ministry of Health will require sustained effort and long-term commitment to fully realize its goals,” he said.

Chalke said in a phone interview that his office will consider Wright’s update as it continues monitoring the government’s actions responding to his report. “We will review it, we’ll be assessing the update, and I’ll be publicly reporting on whether government’s implementation meets the letter and spirit of each of the recommendations in Misfire.”

He said some of the progress so far will have a lasting impact. “We’re pleased to see the two pieces of legislation that we recommended be introduced. One’s already passed and the other one’s been introduced.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said he’s pleased with changes the government has made to support research that will improve the provision of health care.

“Obviously for the people involved it was a terrible, terrible period,” he said. “We’re just hopeful the actions being taken now point to a better future both for individuals personally who were treated abominably in the matter, but also for health research, for evidence-based research, which also suffered.”

Making the changes that are needed to the culture of the ministry will take a long-term commitment, Dix said. “It’s a huge challenge to address over time issues of the workplace and of workplace culture. Just having a plan doesn’t mean the plan will be executed, and so we’ve got some work to do there, but I’m confident we’re at least on the right path.”

In his letter, Wright wrote that the work will continue after the recommendations are completed.

“I take very seriously my responsibility to see that the Public Service better equips public servants to meet the standards of integrity we must expect of those who serve our province, and to ensure that such tragic events could never happen again. To this end, the work to change practices and develop a strong culture of trust and respect across the Public Service will continue with the focus and attention it deserves.”  [Tyee]

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