Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sask. Party gov’t faces questions in Walker wrongful dismissal case; Premier Brad Wall, Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz & Doug Emsley short on answers

(from left) Ken Krawetz, Brad Wall, Doug Emsley,
Garnet Garven, Rob Norris, Wynne Young, Mike Carr and Reg Downs

“[C]hanges to the senior levels of the civil service…should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.”
– Brad Wall, Leader of the Official Opposition Saskatchewan Party, Regina Leader-Post, Aug. 30, 2007

“Who led the transition process? Myself.”
– Premier Brad Wall in the Saskatchewan Legislature on Mar. 18, 2008
A number of questions remain unanswered about the 34-year provincial civil servant that was fired without cause by the Saskatchewan Party government.

Allan Walker, the former assistant deputy minister of Occupational Health and Safety in the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour, was one of 70 workers that lost their job in a post-election purge last January.

Three officials of the Public Service Commission conducted a wrongful dismal hearing into Walker’s case on June 25-26 in Regina.

According to the article Commission hears ex-employee’s case (Leader-Post, June 26, 2008), Walker told the commission that he was not a political appointment and had competed for every government job -- including his last one -- that he has had since he started working for government in 1973. Nevertheless, Walker was told last January that he was being dismissed without cause because he “no longer enjoyed the confidence in government.”

At the time, deputy premier Ken Krawetz, head of the government’s transition team, stated the dismissed civil servants were all assessed and found to be not philosophically compatible with Premier Brad Wall’s new government.

But Walker said he was never interviewed prior to his dismissal and noted that the PSC doesn’t include “philosophical tests” for those hired through open competitions.

Advanced Education, Employment and Labour deputy minister Wynne Young told the hearing that she was actually the person who dismissed Walker.

However, Young admitted she made her decision after receiving a call from transition team member Doug Emsley about other department employees deemed not compatible. Walker’s name was not on Emsley’s original list but when Young inquired about Walker’s job status, Emsley said the government no longer had confidence in Walker. Young said she terminated Walker on that basis.

Advance Education, Employment and Labour Minister Rob Norris also testified saying he had no role in Walker’s dismissal but did see the list Emsley provided Young.

In Krawetz testifies, hearing concludes (Leader-Post, June 27, 2008) the deputy premier said that he had neither personal reasons nor any information to suggest that former civil servant Allan Walker could not have performed his job for a Saskatchewan Party government.

Such personnel assessments were “largely made by Doug Emsley” -- a long-time party supporter and private businessman briefly contracted to work for Premier Brad Wall’s office during the transition phase.

Krawetz said he didn’t know Walker and did not even know he was fired until receiving a subpoena to attend this hearing.

The minister also said his government had not made any dramatic policy change to occupational health and safety that would now make Walker less capable of performing his old job.

Firing decisions were left to deputy ministers who were expected to evaluate relevant material, Krawetz said. However, Krawetz admitted “those discussion could have involved direction from Mr. Emsley” or other members of the transition team.

Deputy Minister Young testified earlier she conducted no formal evaluation of Walker.

Walker’s lawyer, Ron Gates, said no one -- including the province’s second-most powerful figure -- presented any evidence that they has lost confidence in Walker and no one can seem to find any fault with his work.

Department of Justice lawyer Ross Macnab acknowledged this hearing had not discovered why the government had lost confidence in Walker, but that didn’t matter. Walker was fired without cause -- something the deputy minister had the legal authority to do under Section 28 of the Public Service Act.

It was “outrageous” for Young to fire Walker strictly on the basis of telephone conversation with Emsley, Gates argued. “You have to uphold the merit system. The merit system does not include unjust dismissals of competent civil servants.”

Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk said Walker explained that he competed and won on merit every job he had in government since he started in 1973. Each job meant having to undergo a year’s probation, performance reviews and fulfilling the civil servant’s oath upon which you swore.

The “truly maddening aspect for the former civil servant (and the disturbing aspect for the rest of us) is that we still don’t know “why” the government had lost confidence in Walker,” said Mandryk.

“Neither Premier Brad Wall’s deputy minister, Garnet Garven (who was subpoenaed) nor Emsley were called to testify.”

Mandryk noted the hearing heard that Walker “was not politically active” and that his dismissal was based not only on Young’s conversation with Emsley but also on “the need to replace the entire management structure in this area of her department.” [An issue that can’t easily be dismissed (Leader-Post, July 2, 2008)]

The case raises a number of questions.

It would be interesting to know why Emsley and Garven weren’t called to testify. After all according to a Nov. 9, 2007, Saskatchewan Party news release both were named as “senior members” of the transition team.

“As my Deputy Minister, Mr. Garven will be asked to provide the leadership within the public service to carry out our new government’s mandate for positive change,” Wall said at the time.

Emsley’s title was Chief of Transition and Special Advisor to the Premier. The former ministerial assistant in the Grant Devine government was paid $76,897 for 1,358 hours of work that followed the Nov. 7 provincial election and ran until the end of March.[Opposition curious about payouts (Leader-Post, Apr. 9, 2008)]

In the five months that he worked for the government not one story appeared in the StarPhoenix or Leader-Post where Emsley discussed the transition process or his role in it. Why is that? Did the media even try to interview the man? The same goes for the Walker case. He seems to be invisible.

Murray Mandryk reported in the Leader-Post that Wall appeared to be following elements of Elwin Hermanson’s old transition plan rather closely.

“For example, the Thistle Project [dated Jan. 10, 2003] cited a transition team whose core consisted of chief of staff Reg Downs, Garnet Garven (who would become deputy minister to the premier) and businessman Doug Emsley (who, according to internal Saskatchewan Party documents, would play a major role in the new government’s human resources decisions),” said Mandryk.

“The transition plan included a lengthy 10-page list of “potential human resources” hires -- some of whom were people with long-held connections to the federal Conservatives (including people like Tom Lukiwski, who has since become a Conservative MP) or to the old Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative government, but many of whom would more fairly be categorized as members of the Saskatchewan business community or like-minded people the new government intended to recruit.” [Sask. Party dusts off its old plan for power (Leader-Post, Nov. 20, 2007)]

Why weren’t Premier Brad Wall or his special adviser Reg Downs called to testify?

The Nov. 9, 2007, news release named Downs as a senior member of the transition team as well.

Downs has a 25-year friendship with Wall. According to StarPhoenix reporter James Wood, Downs “oversaw the moderation of policy and refinement of message that culminated in the Sask. Party’s landslide victory last fall.”

“My role is to make sure they are aware of the agenda, the priorities of the government ... and to make sure everyone is on the same page,” says Downs. [The power behind the premier (Part 1)(Leader-Post, June 27, 2008)]

In Sept. 2003, when Saskatchewan’s governing NDP said it had uncovered a “hit list” of government workers who would be fired if the opposition Saskatchewan Party gets into power, the then chief of staff Reg Downs told CBC News that just because someone is suspected of having an NDP connection doesn’t mean he or she will be fired.

“People who are doing their jobs competently, and in a non-political manner, should expect to continue doing so.” [Opposition has civil servant ‘hit list’: Saskatchewan NDP (CBC News, Sept. 24, 2003)]

That didn’t happen in Walker’s case. It should also be remembered that Krawetz testified that discussion on firings could have involved direction from members of the transition team other than Emsley.

As for the premier the Mar. 18, 2008, Hansard shows Wall saying that he led the transition process. So it would appear that although Krawetz headed the transition it was the premier who was in charge overall.

Wall has a lot to answer for.

In a letter to the Leader-Post in Aug. 2007 Wall discussed a post-election public service under a Saskatchewan Party government.

“Maintaining a professional and nonpartisan public service is in the best interest of all Saskatchewan people,” Wall said.

“One of the key decisions that must be made upon the election of a new government is the appointment of senior civil servants. The criteria for making such decisions cannot be simplistic.”

Wall said decisions on changes to the senior levels of the civil service “should be based on merit, not patronage or partisan politics.”

“If there are some senior officials who are ideologically tied to the outgoing administration and therefore resist the new government's democratic mandate for change, then those individuals will need to be replaced.” [How SaskParty views civil service (Leader-Post, Aug. 30, 2007)]

By all accounts Walker did not fit this description, but was fired anyway.

What must truly be galling for Walker is that appointments were made within the Wall government, including in his old department, which appear to smack of patronage or partisan politics.

For example, Mike Carr was named associate deputy minister of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour.

Carr is the former vice-president and director of personnel for IPSCO Saskatchewan Inc. IPSCO (now Evraz Inc. NA) is a major contributor of the Saskatchewan Party. Since 1999 the company has donated over $48,000 to the party.

Carr was co-chair of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce human resources committee during Warren Michelson’s tenure as chamber president. Michelson is now the Saskatchewan Party MLA for Moose Jaw North.

Carr was a member of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board representing employers.

The Moose Jaw Times Herald once described Carr as “an advocate of the hard line” in the business community. [Proposed indexing of minimum wage is betrayal, provincial chamber votes (Moose Jaw Times Herald, May 12, 2007)]

Carr represented the chamber at the June 14, 2007, standing committee on the economy hearing speaking in support of the destructive BC-Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA).

In the Legislature on Mar. 18, 2008, Premier Wall indicated that Carr was appointed by an order-in-council.

“In the case of Mr. Carr, given his considerable experience with respect to the area that he’s now going to be working in government, clearly the government was satisfied that they had the right individual to be carrying out these duties and made its decision and followed a practice by order in council that the previous government also followed,” said Wall.

The Premier neglected to mention that Carr appears to be a contributor to the Saskatchewan Party. A Michael Carr is listed in the party’s financial statements filed with Elections Saskatchewan as having donated $900 in 2007 and $300 in 2003.

After trying to dodge the question Wall finally admitted that “Of the new appointments to date, none have gone to a competition process. That may well be the case in the future, Mr. Chairman.”

As noted earlier Allan Walker competed and won on merit every job he had in government since he started in 1973.

The Public Service Commissioners are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council and are responsible to effectively carry out the provisions of The Public Service Act, 1998.

The current commissioners are Clare Isman, Chair, Ray Purdie, Lynn Archdekin and Roberta Burns. (It is interesting to note that Wynne Young was the chair of the Public Service Commission from 1997 to 2004.)

According to the ministry’s website “Commissioners have all the powers of commissioners appointed pursuant to The Public Inquiries Act, including the power to administer oaths and declarations, to subpoena witnesses and to compel the production of books, papers and records.”

Did the commission order the government to produce any “papers and records” created by the transition team? If not, why?

Other questions include : What were the specific terms of Emsley’s employment? Were ministers and deputy ministers required to report directly to Emsley? Why did the government feel there was a need to replace the entire management structure in deputy minister Wynne Young’s area? Why did Young not interview or formally evaluate Walker? If Walker wasn’t on Emsley’s list why did he tell Young the government had no confidence in him?

Did Walker’s firing have anything to do with his long-time position in the Occupational Health and Safety Division?

After all as the Saskatchewan Party MLA for Swift Current Brad Wall once blamed “red tape and regulations…be it through Workers’ Comp or occupational health and safety or various pieces of labour legislation” for driving “businesses and the jobs they create and the taxes they pay out of the province of Saskatchewan.” [Saskatchewan Hansard, June 20, 2000]

Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz has a few things to answer for as well.

Krawetz told the hearing he didn’t know Walker. This is despite the fact that over the years Walker has appeared before Krawetz at committee meetings.

One such meeting was the May 11, 2005, Standing Committee on the Economy when Krawetz substituted for Brenda Bakken-Lackey for consideration of the Estimates of the Department of Labour (Vote 20 Subvote LA01). Krawetz singled out Walker’s department for being the only one that showed an anticipated decline in salary.

Another meeting was the Oct. 22, 2002, Standing Committee on Public Accounts when Krawetz, as the chairperson, quizzed Walker about the number of high-risk workplaces in Saskatchewan.

Krawetz told the PSC hearing that personnel assessments were “largely made by Doug Emsley” and that firing decisions were left to deputy ministers who were expected to evaluate relevant material.

As head of the transition team Krawetz – who is also the Minister of Education – was hardly out of the loop to what was going on around him.

On Jan. 14, 2008, Krawetz said “Each minister now is working with his or her deputy minister for staffing assessments and that is something that will be continuous as personnel is evaluated and new goals are set and sometimes due to vacancies, due to retirements, there is a need to change people and that will continue.”

He said the province has a professional civil service and any potential changes “are as a result of evaluations that are going to be done in a professional way.” [Crown shuffle on way (Leader-Post, Jan. 15, 2008)]

Tell that to Walker.

When the hammer came down ten days later any sense of fairness or professionalism was thrown out the window.

“The dismissals are not about how people did their jobs,” said Krawetz. “It’s all about people that can tow the party line.”

“They are all being let go without any reason or cause,” said Krawetz.

“We need leadership from individuals in key areas, areas where we expect people that can follow the objectives and philosophy of the Saskatchewan Party and Premier Wall.” [Civil Servants Fired By New Saskatchewan Government (eCanadaNow.com, Jan. 25, 2008)]

Was Walker’s position one of those “key areas?” If so, then why?

But then again Walker was never interviewed or formally evaluated so how could the government know he wouldn’t be able to follow the objectives and philosophy of the new Wall government?

In the article Purge of Sask. civil service harmful: political scientist (StarPhoenix, Jan. 25, 2008) Murray Mandryk said “Krawetz insisted all of the dismissals were handled with sensitivity. However, the transition team deemed that all those dismissed -- even those without identifiable political connections -- did not fit with the direction and philosophy of the new government.”

The following day Mandryk blasted the government saying “Wall has gone over the line in these dismissals” and called the purge “madness” and “dangerous.”

“[A]t least half of these dismissals appear to be life-long civil servants with no political connections,” said Mandryk.

“This is not simply a matter of politicians exercising a little hypocrisy when it comes to hiring their friends and firing their enemies. (“I don’t know if what we are doing is totally different,” Krawetz told reporters Friday.)

“Well, this is different. This is the firing of 30-year, non-partisan civil servants without providing any justification.”

“This is different because it goes well beyond the deputies,” said Mandryk. “Sure, one expects that an in-coming government has the right to replace any deputy who will have a direct working relationship with the minister. But many of the non-partisans dismissed were much, much farther down the flow-charts. The public policy justifications for such actions are -- at best -- unclear.” [Meet the new boss, same as the old boss (Leader-Post, Jan. 26, 2008)]

The treatment Walker received does not appear to be an isolated incident.

On Jan. 26 Mandryk reported that a dismissed civil servant said no one gave him the chance to argue that he could work with Premier Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party administration.

“This whole notion of an assessment (interview), there was no assessment,” said the 15-year government employee who asked not be identified because of family considerations.

The civil servant acknowledged that he was hired to work as a ministerial assistant 15 years ago and did work briefly in the legislature in the early 1990s.

However, he said that he has not been politically involved since the 1999 election and stressed that the job he was asked to leave was one that he got through open competition and was not a cabinet appointment.

“I have always competed for my positions,” he said.

The dismissed civil servant said he had received strong performance reviews in his job from his immediate superior.

According to Mandryk, Krawetz gave assurances “that every one of the 70 dismissed employees was interviewed and assessed by a superior.” [Civil servant says he was wrongly fired (Leader-Post, Jan. 26, 2008)]

With the revelation that Walker was not formally evaluated Krawetz’s credibility is shot, not to mention the integrity of the Saskatchewan Party’s transition process. The question now is, are there any more cases like Walker’s out there? If so, did Krawetz or anyone else in the senior ranks of the transition team know about them?

Finally, why is no one calling for Section 28 of the Public Service Act to be amended or repealed so what happened to Allan Walker and others last January won’t happen again?

Unfortunately, honest and straightforward answers to this and other questions are not likely forthcoming.


At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Emsley working for only $57/hour should set off big red flags. What quality of executive level leadership can be expected of someone only being paid the same as a SaskPower electrician (once you account for benefits and overtime pay)?

No disrespect to SaskPower electricians who are mostly hard working and honest people, but letting such an underpaid man (relative to his skills and education) make decisions involving tens of millions of dollars seems to be penny wise, pound foolish.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger can't_believe_it said...

How about an in depth article about how the economy has taken off since we got rid of the NDP. Perhaps another on the payoff to Murdoch Carrier for sexually assaulting his staff. Perhaps another on the profitability of potato barns, and MLA's outright LYING about it. How about one on the Sask Power reports that showed the feasability of 350 Mw. Nuclear stations that the NDP buried. What about one on Calvert trying to pay for his seat by using 8 million dollars of health care money for a shopping mall. People in glass houses......


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