Friday, October 10, 2008

Saskatchewan Party gov’t axes public service commissioner in Walker wrongful dismissal case, adds two former Devine Tory staffers as members

The Saskatchewan Party government has cancelled the appointment of one of the public service commissioners (PSC) that handled the recent Allan Walker wrongful dismissal case and have appointed what appear to be two former Devine Tory staffers as members.

StarPhoenix reporter James Wood said Roberta Burns was nearly four years past the expiration date of her original term, was serving at the pleasure of the government and said her replacement was a matter of routine.

Wayne Elhard, the Sask. Party minister responsible for the PSC, said there was “no retribution” involved in the change, which was done in an order-in-council of cabinet.

But the government does want changes at the public service commission, the independent agency that oversees human resources in the government.

“We want some of these commissions to reflect the direction of the provincial government. We thought this was an opportunity to bring some new perspective to the public service commission,” Elhard told reporters outside a meeting of cabinet at the legislature on Wednesday [Oct. 8, 2008].

Burns sat on a three-person panel of public service commissioners who heard the case of the former assistant deputy minister of labour who had been terminated in January with other civil servants after the Saskatchewan Party took power last fall.

The panel ordered that he be put on a “re-employment list” and be paid as much as 20 months salary.

It also strongly took issue with Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz’s contention that perceived political ideology was an appropriate criterion for firing career civil servants.

The government named Dawn Dobni of Saskatoon and Greg Wensel of Regina as the new public service commissioners. [Sask. Party’s new ‘direction’ worries NDP members (Leader-Post, Oct. 9, 2008)]

With the appointment of the new commissioners the Wall government appears to be continuing its practice of hiring friends and former Tory staff.

According to the Legislative Hansard it seems Wensel was a special assistant to former Justice Minister and Attorney General and the Minister Responsible for the Employment Development Agency John Gary Lane in Grant Devine’s Tory government.

Wensel also appears to have some ready experience working with the Saskatchewan Party government. At the Apr. 17, 2008, Standing Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs and Justice, June Draude, the Minister of First Nations and Métis Relations and Minister Responsible for Northern Affairs, reported that Wensel, a human resource management instructor in the faculty of business administration at the University of Regina, was working with the ministry’s acting deputy minister and the PSC to “design” the department following the merger of Northern Affairs with First Nations and Métis Relations to create the new ministry. His contract was expected to conclude in July 2008.

With the merger Draude said there was a reduction of 15 full-time equivalent positions across the ministry.

“There were nine vacant positions that were eliminated. Two individuals were offered and have accepted reassignment of duties within the ministry. One individual was offered the option of reassignment or severance, and one individual was offered a severance package. Two FTEs were transferred to other ministries,” Draude said.

Among the casualties of the Wall government’s purge that was announced on Nov. 27, 2007, was Richard Gladue, the deputy minister of First Nations and Metis Relations, reportedly the highest ranking First Nations civil servant in the provincial government.

It seems Wensel was hired to clean up the mess.

The Hansard appears to also indicate that Dawn Dobni was an executive assistant to former Tory Finance Minister Bob Andrew who was convicted of fraud in 1997.

Dobni, a lawyer, was originally from Andrew’s constituency of Kindersley. She is currently an associate professor in the department of management and marketing in the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan.

The PSC’s damning 19-page ruling first hit the news on Aug. 22, 2008. It seems the Wall government was only able to contain itself for five or six weeks before taking action and canning Burns.

The terms of the other two commissioners in the Walker case, Lynn Archdekin and Ray Purdie, both of Saskatoon, aren’t set to expire until August 26, 2009 and November 3, 2009 respectively. PSC Chairperson Clare Isman, of Regina, is serving at the pleasure of the government. Look for the government to eventually send these folks packing too.

(It’s interesting to note that Clare Isman is the wife of Tourism, Parks, Culture, and Sport deputy minister Van Isman.)

In their decision the commissioners said they are charged to uphold the purposes of the Public Services Act (PSA) including “to maintain an independent and professional public service” and that “Appointments to positions in the classified division of the public service are to be made on the basis of merit.”

“We regret very much that this case places the Commissioners in a position of having to overturn a decision of the Deputy Minister and the stated objective of the new government but we are obligated to fulfill the requirements of the legislation outlined above and our oath as Commissioners.

“In our opinion the termination of Mr. Walker’s employment fails the test of fair and just human resource management practices as envisaged for the classified service in the PSA and constitutes a fundamental violation of the principle of merit in appointments in that division.

“The public interest is best served by establishing and maintaining a classified service based on the “merit principle”. That is to say appointments to and promotions within the classified division of the service are to be made on a competitive basis, open to the public, free from any political interference or direction and based on demonstrable competence for the position being filled.”

In her testimony Advanced Education, Employment and Labour Deputy Minister Wynne Young “confirmed, as a former Chair of the PSC, she still feels bound by the Oath of Office of a Public Service Commissioner and agrees with it and the merit system.”

In his testimony Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz “confirmed that all Acts are law and must be followed until changed.”

The commissioners followed the Act, which hadn’t been changed, but that didn’t sit well with Krawetz and the Wall government who appear to be only interested in rulings that will reflect the philosophy and direction of the government. Here’s to wondering whether the Saskatchewan Party might now try and change the Act to better suit its agenda.

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