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Who Else Was Involved in the B.C. Health Ministry Firings?

06/18/2015 03:13 EDT | Updated 06/18/2016 05:59 EDT
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Description Flag of British Columbia , flown on board the BC Ferries ship M/V Queen of Oak Bay | Source | Date 2007-12-12 | Author ...

On Sept. 6, 2012, B.C.'s health ministry fired four employees and suspended three others who were then fired on Oct. 24. One of those fired, University of Victoria PhD student Roderick MacIsaac, 46, committed suicide on Jan. 8, 2013.

Four of the employees (Malcolm Maclure, Ron Mattson, Robert Neil Hart and Rebecca Warburton) sued the B.C. government for wrongful dismissal. The government has apologized to three of the four and settled out-of-court with them.

Hart and Maclure were hired again and received a cash settlement. Mattson chose to retire and received a cash settlement. The government apologized publicly to the MacIsaac family in October 2014. MacIsaac had only three days left to complete his co-op placement when he was fired.

On June 5, 2015, the Vancouver Sunreported that internal records show RCMP officers were blindsided by the B.C. government's claim that they were investigating eight fired Health Ministry researchers and never conducted a criminal investigation because the ministry never provided any evidence of wrongdoing.

It's the scandal that the B.C. government just can't shake off.

Three years out and the public outrage over the 2012 health ministry firings shows no signs of abating and may be intensifying over recent disclosures that the government misled the public on the RCMP investigation that never was.

It can be a bit of a mystery sometimes how governments make such decisions and prepare for the accompanying fallout that can arise. Who calls the shots? What's the chain of command?

The political stickhandling of Mike Duffy's expense claims provides a glimpse at who some of the players could be. Nigel Wright, chief of staff to the prime minister, took the lead. A political appointee, the chief of staff to a prime minister or premier is considered by many to be the second most powerful position in government.

Assisting Wright was his executive assistant, the director of issues management in the Prime Minister's Office, and a former lawyer to the office.

One would expect some of the same players in the B.C. government to be in on major decisions as well, like the heath ministry firings.

When it comes to the firings, five names spring to mind, but former health minister Margaret MacDiarmid isn't one of them.

She pulled the trigger and took the rap for it but since she was sworn in as health minister only the day before, it's doubtful she was involved in the process. At that point her knowledge would be limited to briefing notes and what might have been said around the cabinet table.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong was health minister from March 2011 until September 2012. The suspensions happened under his watch.

Graham Whitmarsh, deputy minister of health until June 2013, played a key role.

John Dyble, deputy minister of health (June 2009 to March 2011) and today deputy minister to the premier and head of the public service was clearly involved.

The premier's communications director at the time, Sara MacIntyre, was no wallflower. It 's a pretty safe bet she had something to say related to the firings.

And then there was the premier's chief of staff, Ken Boessenkool.

Given his position, Boessenkool can't have been a mere bystander through the whole affair, particularly with an election a year away. He was either part of the decision-making process or was focused with MacIntyre on preparing for any fallout.

Like Nigel Wright, Boessenkool was a political appointment. And one thing that most people can agree on: there's always been a political odour to the firings.

The announcement? Total spin. Subsequent revelations prove it, but the government's own choice of words do as well.

From the minister: deeply troubled, "profoundly disappointed," a very concerning set of circumstances. From the news release: immediate response, whatever steps are necessary, ensure confidence is maintained in the integrity of the public service, and that RCMP investigation that never was.

To drive home the point, the ministry also claimed to have contacted the Public Service Agency, the Comptroller General, the Auditor General, and the Information and Privacy Commissioner. An audible sigh of relief was heard from B.C.'s Conflict of Interest Commissioner.

A few months before MacDiarmid announced the firings, the premier's key staff had also begun to take on a blueish hue.

Boessenkool was brought in from Alberta to be Premier Christy Clark's new chief of staff.

Boessenkool was a "senior policy advisor and strategist to Conservative Party of Canada Leader Stephen Harper" and "played senior strategic roles in the 2004 and 2006 Conservative campaigns."

He was also a registered lobbyist for three pharmaceutical firms in Ottawa between 2006 and 2009 including Pfizer Canada.

And he wasn't the only Harper transplant in Clark's office. A few weeks after Boessenkool was hired, Sara MacIntyre was brought in as the premier's communications director.

Before heading west, MacIntyre was a former press secretary to prime minister Harper and as B.C.'s media can attest to, MacIntyre didn't leave Harper's rules of media engagement behind in Ottawa.

Call it karma if you want, but within weeks of the firings, Boessenkool was gone, a result of an "inappropriate incident" and a month later, MacIntyre was reassigned to the Government Communications and Public Engagement office. She wasn't heard to say "goodie" on the way out of the premier's office.

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