Edited slightly for brevity, here is today’s (April 6, 2017) press statement from B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalk on the investigation into Ministry of Health employee firings, followed by a statement from the Office of the Premier in response:
VICTORIA – Flawed investigations and rushed decision making resulted in key government officials taking action that had far-reaching and harmful consequences, B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke said today in releasing his investigation report, titled Misfire: The 2-12 Ministry of Health Employment Terminations and Related Matters.
“A legislative committee referred this matter to my office because there has been a public interest in wanting to know what happened — who made the decisions and why,” Chalke said. “My investigation addresses those questions and our recommendations map the way forward. It is my hope that government takes the opportunity to close this dark chapter by implementing the recommendations I have made in this report.”
The Ombudsperson investigation into the 2012 Ministry of Health dismissals found that the affected individuals did not deserve the significant personal, financial, and professional harm they suffered.
An initial complaint that incorrectly suggested wrongdoing quickly gained momentum without proper assessment, and resulting investigation grew in scope.
“The breadth and complexity of the subject matter they were investigating presented ministry investigators with enormous challenges. With limited knowledge, investigators very quickly drew adverse conclusions and the momentum grew,” Chalke said.
Key decision-makers acted on the information from the investigation team and believed that the conduct of the employees under investigation was sufficient to support dismissals for cause — which was wrong.
“This breakdown happened in part because a number of government controls and practices were not followed,” Chalke said. “Investigators did not bring an open mind and the investigative process was unfair. The dismissals were rushed, the human resources process effectively collapsed and there was confusion about the scope of the legal advice provided, all of which resulted in terminations that were unjustified.”
The decision to dismiss six Ministry of Health employees was made by former Deputy Minister of Health Graham Whitmarsh. There was no political interference in the dismissals. A seventh employee was constructively dismissed.
The government publicly announced four of the dismissals and said that they had asked the RCM P to investigate. Chalke found that it was wrong to mention the RCMP because the decision failed to consider the impacts on individuals and was misleading.
The RCMP had told government that no decision would be made on whether to investigated until a final report was received. The RCMP was no investigating and never did.
The lead-up to the public announcement was marked by last-minute, internal debate on whether the RCMP was to be mentioned and, as a result, the issue was not properly considered. “This was an important decision, and the hurried way it was made led to a bad choice being made,” Chalke said.
The Ombudsperson investigation also found that senior government officials suspended or terminated a number of ministry contracts without adequate reason for doing so. As a result, many people associated with ministry research had their livelihoods seriously impacted.
The far-reaching ministry investigation also resulted in a number of impacts on public health research, evaluation, health education initiatives and analysis that the ministry was supporting in 2012.
By examining the negative effects on these people’s lives and careers, as well the underlaying problems in public administration, the Ombudsperson’s investigation led to 41 recommendations that will address the harm done to individuals, and strengthen B.C.’s public service.
Individual recommendations include that government make ex gratia “goodwill” payments to affected individuals. The payments, ranging from $15,000 to $125,000, would in some cases be accompanied by personal written apologies from government.
The Ombudsperson is also recommending that government honour the memory of Roderick MacIsaac by funding a $500,000 University of Victoria endowment for a scholarship.
The Ministry of Health investigation implicated Mr. MacIsaac in alleged wrongdoing. The Ombudsperson investigation found he had done nothing wrong. Mr. MacIsaac was found dead in January 2013, his death a suicide.
The Ombudsperson investigation began in September 2015. Almost 4.7 million records were obtained, and 130 witnesses provided evidence under oath during 540 hours of interviews.
Link to full report.
Government statement on receiving the Ombudsperson report:
VICTORIA – The Province of British Columbia is responding to the report of the Office of the Ombudsperson with the following statement:
Statement from Kim Henderson, Deputy Minister to the Premier and head of the B.C. Public Service:
“The Government of British Columbia thanks the Ombudsperson and his office for this report. It provides a definitive account of events for which the public service must be accountable.
“This extensive review has allowed the Ombudsperson to come to findings that show the failings of multiple departments. The Ombudsperson’s report brings particular focus to the clear responsibilities within the public service.
“On behalf of the Public Service of British Columbia, I want to offer an unqualified and comprehensive apology to all who were adversely affected by public service conduct.
“Government will fully review the report, findings, and recommendations; but there is no question the public service must use this report as the basis for significant and meaningful action and changes.
“I am committed to taking measures that address the report, and where appropriate go further, to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”