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

Just Posted

Update: North Beach clam harvest closed due to PSP biotoxin

Marine biotoxin results in closure for all bivalve harvesting from Wiah Point to Rose Spit

In Pictures: Rock the Plank! brings in the booty

Pirate-themed skate party raises $2,500 for new Masset Skate Society

Haida Gwaii fishing grounds are key to survival of northern resident killer whales: DFO

Plan marks waters from Langara to Rose Spit as critical habitat for northern resident killer whales

Masset suggests a simpler structure for Gwaii Trust

Change would parallel existing municipal, regional district representation for non-Haida communities

Grade 9s on Gwaii Haanas trip visit “the best spot on Haida Gwaii”

Now in its fourth year, Grade 9 trip gives Haida Gwaii youth a chance to visit Tanu and Windy Bay

Here’s what you need to know about Day 1 at the BC Games

All 18 events kick off on the track, riding ring, fields, courts and lake in the Cowichan Valley

Seal attacks kayakers in the Broughton Archipelago

“It has to be one chance in a million of this happening.”

Victoria-area park sign removed after glitch redirects to porn site

Resident looking to learn more about workout equipment discovered the problem code

Special Olympic athletes take on BC Games during special anniversary

Known as the Global Day of Inclusion, July 20 marks the first Special Olympics in 1968 in Chicago

Scammers dressed as Mounties threaten to arrest senior if she doesn’t cough up cash

Pair of fraudulent officers threaten to arrest 90-year-old woman

Fundraiser to help mom of jogger detained after crossing U.S. border

Cedella Roman, 19, was held in U.S. after accidentally crossing border in South Surrey

Okanagan Wildfires: The latest on wildfires and evacuations

A Friday morning look at the major wildfires impact the Okanagan and Similkameen.

UPDATED: 1,500 residents on evacuation alert as Peachland under state of emergency

The Mount Eneas wildfire has forced an evacuation alert of 596 properties

UPDATED: Remains of all eight Bruce McArthur victims now identified, Toronto police say

McArthur worked as a landscaper and allegedly concealed the remains of several men in planters

Most Read