Dermod Travis: One player's possible role in health ministry firings overlooked

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      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. 

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

      She pulled the trigger and takes the rap for it, but 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 4, 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 about something 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.

      According to his biography, 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 2004 and 2010, 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.



      Herb Barbolet

      Jun 10, 2015 at 1:17pm

      Could it be that the Burrard Bridge Yoga Day fiasco is being used to divert attention away from this - and many other - more serious breaches of public trust? Or, is that giving Clark and her people too much credit?

      Pat Ray

      Jun 15, 2015 at 12:10am

      absolutely a planned diversion. Investigative reporters do not don blinders or develop tunnel vision - Do not become distracted as there are many actions (or lack of action) taken by this government which require your new or continued attention and exposure. Think anything to do with the environment - LNG, big oil, Mount Polley and the laissez-faire approach to the entire event and certainly to the clean up, think the scandal with the government refusal to allow a public enquiry into the firing of the health workers, think of the number of times this government has been put in the position of apologizing to British Columbians - I wonder if there have been full explanations for the reasons behind the many and varied reasons for the apologies. It really appears that that the apologies are full of hot air and little substance.

      Kim Hancock

      Jul 3, 2015 at 12:29pm

      Time for some accountability, what is the real corrupt story?