10/16/2012 03:02 EDT | Updated 12/16/2012 05:12 EST

Officials told tales out of school at agency that trains bureaucrats

OTTAWA - Trouble is brewing at a government agency that teaches job skills to public servants — and Canada's top bureaucrat has been drawn into the fray.

Unidentified senior officials at the Canada School of Public Service wrote to Privy Council Clerk Wayne Wouters this summer complaining about the way the agency is run.

There are rumblings that some people at the agency were upset by the way senior management handled budget cuts.

A copy of the July 25 letter to Wouters, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, is entirely blanked out, except for its subject line: "Letter from the Executives of the Canada School of Public Service."

The precise nature of the allegations is vague. But a flurry of emails and a hastily called meeting indicates the note caused a stir.

Executives held a special meeting the day after the letter was sent. Notes from the meeting say outgoing deputy minister and school president Guy McKenzie addressed the "elephant in the room."

Talking points were also prepared in case managers were asked about the letter.

"As some of you may have heard, a letter was sent to the Clerk of the Privy Council making statements about the senior leadership at the Canada School of Public Service," the document says.

"It is unknown at this time who wrote the letter. It is clear that the letter was sent without the consent or knowledge of the Executive Team.

"The serious allegations within the letter demonstrate that there is a perception of issues within the School which need to be addressed."

Emails show one official offered to write his own letter to staff, presumably to counter the allegations in the letter to Wouters.

"I think it is equally important that staff are not misled by rumours," he wrote to McKenzie.

"Do what you have to do," McKenzie replied.

McKenzie also offered to meet Wouters and his deputy, Janice Charette, days after the letter was sent.

He followed up in August with a long letter to Charette, indicating the apparent discord at the agency would not affect several planned audits and investigations.

"The School's senior executive will actively support each and every one of these investigations and audits in order to ensure open access and the utmost transparency of all aspects of our operations," McKenzie wrote.

"I welcome this extensive examination and scrutiny of the management of the School."

He also mentioned the anonymous letter.

"As you (are) aware, members of my executive team received a copy of a letter about the School's management and operations," McKenzie wrote.

"The signature block on the letter stated it was from the Executive of the School; however, it was not signed by any individuals."

The paragraphs that followed are blanked out in the documents released to The Canadian Press.

Several other top officials wrote emails to Wouters after the initial letter was sent, the contents of which are also blanked out.

However, McKenzie's thank-you notes and the fact that he was copied on some emails suggest these messages to Wouters were more complementary than the original, anonymous letter.

The school defended its decision to blank out the contents of the letter to Wouters.

"I reviewed the content of the letter and I stand by my decision to withhold it in its entirety," Louis Landry, the agency's director of strategic directions and governance, said in an email.

McKenzie is leaving his job at the end of the month to become president of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

The agency declined an interview request on McKenzie's behalf and instead issued a three-point statement.

"Many of the issues raised in the letter are unsubstantiated," the school said.

"It is unknown at this time who wrote the letter. It is clear that the letter was sent without the consent or knowledge of the executive team of the Canada School of Public Service. A thorough review of matters is underway."

This is not the first time signs of trouble have surfaced at the school. Earlier this year, a federal watchdog blew the whistle on a series of cooked contracts.

Procurement ombudsman Frank Brunetta found the school split the amounts of a dozen training contracts — together worth $170,000 — and generally stacked the deck so a retired public servant who was already collecting a pension could get the work.

Brunetta's report cited inappropriate sole-source contracts awarded repeatedly, even after key officials at the school warned against the practice.