Premier Christy Clark has been under fire in the legislature for the lack of records kept by her senior political staff and ministers.

Premier Christy Clark has been under fire in the legislature for the lack of records kept by her senior political staff and ministers.

BC VIEWS: The silence of the email servers

Health ministry contractor firings case illustrates lack of paper trails in Premier Christy Clark's government

VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark’s government has been steadily backed into a corner on its apparent deletion of emails involving sensitive government topics.

A week-long barrage of accusations by the NDP opposition peaked with their most damning evidence of a cover-up, in the long-running case of eight health researchers suspended or fired from drug approval studies.

Most have been paid settlements or reinstated after the biggest personnel management blunder in memory. One committed suicide.

We are now into a second independent review of this tragic case, after an independent lawyer was unable to determine what went wrong, because she couldn’t compel testimony or demand records. It is now in the hands of B.C.’s new Ombudsperson, Jay Chalke, who has that authority.

Everyone agrees that the deputy health minister of the day, Graham Whitmarsh, was legally responsible for the decisions and records. Yet somehow the only record released to the NDP for the two-year period of the firings and subsequent investigation was a heavily blanked-out update from his successor, Stephen Brown, to the premier’s deputy, John Dyble.

It refers to an “update on litigation resolution from investigation,” the substance of which is blanked out, and offers to discuss the situation by phone.

Here’s an exchange between NDP MLA Adrian Dix and Citizens’ Services Minister Amrik Virk:

Dix: “Can the minister explain why the Office of the Premier, the Deputy Minister to the Premier, has no records and why the successive Deputy Minister of Health had one record over two years?”

Virk: “The suggestion from the member opposite that there are no documents is false…. There are more documents now that the Ombudsperson has conduct of the matter and is undertaking a comprehensive review. I fully expect that he will do a comprehensive review and will consent to the release of more documents.”

There will be more sound and fury over this, but only Chalke’s report can provide new information. And even then, the damage is done, settlements and non-disclosure deals have been signed, and Clark and Health Minister Terry Lake have formally apologized.

The larger issue is how freedom of information legislation should work. Should the opposition be able to second-guess decisions of bureaucrats by going through their emails?

The traditional answer is no. Elected officials are responsible, even if they had no actual role, as should always be the case in hiring and firing ministry staff and awarding government work contracts. The buck stops with Lake and Clark, not their deputies.

There are sound reasons for this. Consider another sensitive decision, to shoot wolves from the air in a last-ditch effort to preserve dwindling mountain caribou herds.

Protesters, pop stars and politicians can sound off as they like, but these hard decisions are made and carried out by wildlife experts working for or consulted by the province. The minister, in this case Forests Minister Steve Thomson, authorizes the use of helicopters and rifles and takes the political consequences.

One can imagine the agonizing discussion that goes on behind the scenes, as provincial and First Nations wildlife experts watch caribou herds dwindle despite widespread habitat protection efforts. They not only make the technical call, they have to pull the trigger.

Would wildlife biologists be able to provide frank advice for or against this decision if they knew their names and opinions could later be used in a political battle in the legislature and in the streets?

No. And can you run a public service if everyone is subjected to the scrutiny that only politicians choose to endure? No.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Just Posted

Proposed design for the Topaz Park bike and skate park elements. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria requesting feedback on Topaz Park redesign

Public input now being taken for proposed skate, bike park ideas

Improving safety at Keating Cross Road and the Pat Bay Highway is the goal of the flyover project currently in the works. The province aims to reveal the final cost and design this fall. (Screencap/Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Final budget, design of Keating flyover in Central Saanich still in the works

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure says information coming by this fall

Colin Davidson won $100K on a Set for Life scratch ticket in Sooke. (BCLC photo)
Sooke man does ‘happy dance’ after scratching a $100,000 Set for Life win

Colin Davidson plans to renovate his home and invest in his daughter’s education

West Shore RCMP K9 Halla. (Black Press Media file photo)
Sound of RCMP dog enough to stop suspects in Oak Bay

West Shore RCMP K9 unit called in, didn’t get to chase

Saanich Neighbourhood Place is hoping to open the doors to its new centre in July, pending final council approval. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich childcare agency awaits final approval on much-needed new facility

Saanich Neighbourhood Place keen to open new centre this summer, expand options for community

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

There is an emergency shelter near the Golden Ears peaks. (Facebook/Special to The News)
Hiker fogged in on Golden Ears, spends 2 nights

Talon Helicopters, Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue bring him home Monday

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

Rick Ruppenthal of Saltair will host a 12-hour talk-a-thon Friday, June 18 over Facebook live. (Photo submitted)
Talk-a-thon to focus on men’s mental health issues

Island man spearheading a campaign to generate more conversation during fundraiser

Ivy was thrown out of a moving vehicle in Kelowna. Her tail was severely injured and will be amputated. (BC SPCA)
Kitten thrown from moving vehicle, needs help: Kelowna SPCA

The seven-week-old kitten had severe tail and femur injuries

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates that less than five per cent of mass-marketing fraud is ever reported.
Tips to avoid scams targeting Vancouver Island seniors

In most cases, fraudsters impersonate an individual, business or agency seniors recognize and trust

Vancouver courthouse. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Man loses bid to appeal conviction for 1999 rape at Abbotsford music festival

James Redden, 53, formerly of Nanaimo, was found guilty in 2019 following six-day trial

A health-care worker holds up a sign signalling she needs more COVID-19 vaccines at the ‘hockey hub’ mass vaccination facility at the CAA Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, June 4, 2021. This NHL-sized hockey rink is one of CanadaÕs largest vaccination centres. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Vaxxed to the max’: Feds launch Ask an Expert campaign to encourage COVID shots

Survey shows that confidence in vaccines has risen this spring

Most Read