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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lake Babine Nation in Woyenne sees two positive Covid cases

Chief Gordon Alec gives the community an update

Single vehicle rollover on Highway 16 claims life of young woman, seriously injures another

The single vehicle incident occurred at Highway 16 and Hillcrest Way

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

COVID-19 cases grow to 13 at B.C. First Nation near Fort St. James

“This is very serious,” says Nak’azdli Whut’en Chief

Directional traffic change coming to one-way street beside McLeod Elementary

This change will be in effect starting Monday, Oct. 5.

B.C. counts 125 new COVID-19 cases, up to 1,284 active

No new deaths or health care facility outbreaks

Health Canada green-lights rapid COVID-19 test

Health Canada approved the BCube test from Hyris Ltd. in the United Kingdom Sept. 23

First Nations Health Authority chief medical officer concerned with rising COVID-19 cases

“There’s still so much we don’t know and we’re learning everyday about this particular virus.”

FINLAYSON: COVID-related job losses concentrated in urban areas… especially Metro Vancouver

The biggest job losses, in absolute terms, have been in Metro Vancouver

6 puppies rescued in mass seizure on Princeton farm die from illness: BC SPCA

Of the 97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized, most of the puppies suffered from parvo

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Action demanded over death of First Nations youth in Abbotsford group home

Family and Indigenous organizations push for thorough investigation

U.S. boater fined $1,000 for violation of Quarantine Act

49-year-old man entered Canada to visit girlfriend in Surrey

More sex abuse charges laid against B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’

Investigators now focussing efforts on alleged victims within the Glad Tidings Church community

Most Read