Letters to the editor
Focus Readers, July/August 2015
The Whistle Blower’s Tale: Part 2
I appreciated David Broadland’s article, “The Whistle Blower’s Tale: Part 2.” If the facts are accurate as reported I fail to understand: (1) why employees of the District of Saanich continue to be employed in light of their incompetence regarding the procurement and implementation of the software; (2) how these employees are allowed to disregard and violate their own regulations/ethics; and (3) why the IT employee is the only one showing moral courage by stating the obvious (rather than saying “I don’t know”) and is subsequently disciplined for telling the truth.
When will we as citizens insist on professional behaviour, ethical behaviour and moral comportment from those we put in office and those who are hired to do their bidding?
I wonder what is keeping anyone from acting on the facts pertaining to Commissioner Denham, District Directors, the Fire Chief, Paul Murray, Forrest Kvemshagen, John Proc, ex-Mayor Leonard (who lost the election and has been appointed to a position in government), and others. Surely some of these facts speak to professional incompetence, inappropriate applications of standards of practice and ethics, and/or faulty thinking regarding moral comportment and moral courage.
The statement that “no one is known to have done it” is hardly a viable argument for not acting. Under the circumstances, many stand in a chain of command while holding a smoking gun. Therefore “they haven’t broken the law”? This is not about law! This is about doing what is right as public servants.
What is alarming about this incident is that it does not stand alone with regards to other public servants, including federal senators, premiers, contractors, and others reported in the public media as being suspected, if not charged and convicted, of misplaced trust and wrong doing.
I am embarrassed that as a citizen I have remained silent in the past. This was too close to home to let it go by. If others agree, call the Saanich switchboard and express your concerns, or write a letter to the editor to the Times Colonist or Focus. Call one of the directors/councillors. Express your concern and disappointment in our local governance. We deserve more. It is the very least we can do.
Frances Ricks, Ph.D.
Watching the Saanich spyware scandal unfold has been a painful reminder. It brought up a lot of old memories of the time I took on a BC statutory employer and whistle-blew on a very big safety issue. I could accept that my employer, and the level of management I reported to, was extremely upset with my action in making public a safety concern—an issue well understood by other employees, but never addressed.
Yes, management brought pressure and even harassment on me (including at home). I was suspended, then terminated for insubordination. But it was the reaction of other employees I wasn’t ready for. My fellow employees knew well the safety issue I exposed—they encountered the same safety problem in performing their jobs just as I did. But the employees more senior to me, who had already endured the safety defect for several years, never reported their own concerns to management. They seemed to have understood the company had no intention of resolving the safety defects and didn’t want to hear about it.
At the time, in the midst of going public, a few employees would shake my hand but often with this caveat: “No one is going to really thank you for what you did.” They understood that the reluctance of some senior employees to blow the whistle had made them look bad. Which was less forgivable than actually blowing the whistle.
Having truth on my side (probably a strong union helped), I was finally vindicated in a BC Labour Relations Board Arbitration Hearing and had my job restored five months later.
Lesson learned: In a vibrant democracy truth counts far more than anything else. Even when your colleagues choose to disagree.
Focus magazine pinpoints crucial timelines and information on the machinations behind the scenes in some of the offices held by municipal personnel at Saanich (the “Truffles Award” goes to David Broadland!). Since last November’s election, the citizens of Saanich have become quite adept at connecting the dots and fitting the puzzle pieces together. A clearer picture is indeed coming into focus —thanks to Focus.
It would appear that some Saanich staff feel threatened. They really should not feel that way. Most citizens are not out for blood. They just want any employees and elected officials who may have pertinent information to come forward and thus help to rectify the current discombobulation.
Kudos to the current and former IT employees of Saanich who had the courage and moral ethics to come forward and disclose vital information. If others in any departments with significant data did likewise, matters could proceed in a positive, civilized manner. The threat of disciplinary hearings by Saanich’s Human Resources are nothing short of a kangaroo court if Whistle Blower’s little tete a tete with Jo MacDonald, Proc and Kvemshagen is any indication. Time to read and familiarize themselves with BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).
Two unconscionable facts were brought to light in the June edition of Focus that have really stirred up the hornet’s nest:
First, the blocking of Mayor Atwell’s access to departmental shared drives and the corporate intranet access (enjoyed by the previous mayor, no questions asked). The mayor, of all people, should have such access if he is to be truly informed and able to keep a finger on the pulse of Saanich at all times. Over six months in office as mayor and someone still persists in placing this roadblock to make matters as unpleasant and difficult as possible for Mayor Atwell. Give the man the tools he needs! A little moral support and encouragement would help too.
The second is the blatant, bombastic threat by interim CAO Laidlaw to dismiss outright Saanich IT employees (or sick the legal hounds on any ex-IT employees) who have the nerve and temerity to come forth with crucial information. Reaction of Saanich residents to this is: “How dare he!” Obviously, Section 30.3(c) of FIPPA is of no concern to Mr Laidlaw. Time for a reality check and time to prioritize municipal vs. provincial legislation. Or is that a foreign concept to our interim CAO?
In the words of the song of yesteryear: “time to straighten up and fly right.”
I am an NDP member. The civil liberties-eroding bill C-51 was just passed. MPs Elizabeth May and Randall Garrison did heroic work to try to defeat it. As NDP Public Safety critic, Randall Garrison (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca), stated: “Terrorism is a very real threat, but there can be no trade-off between public safety and our civil liberties.”
The Saanich municipal whistle blower made it clear the threat to civil liberties is not an abstract, distant or academic matter: “They are nervous about the new mayor...we’re installing [Spector 360] on the directors’ computers as well to make it look like it is not targeted,” he quoted District Assistant IT Manager John Proc as saying.
The Conservative government has shown its disdain for civil liberties. Concerned local representatives, including our hard working Saanich Council NDP allies, can help uphold our civil liberties by passing a binding resolution. It doesn’t have to be an apology. It would restore Mayor Atwell’s departmental shared drive and corporate intranet access, and guarantee digital privacy rights for all employees with consequences for their abrogation. And it would promise that this won’t be repeated.
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” stated Benjamin Franklin in 1775.
After reading “The whistle blower’s tale: Part 2” by David Broadland I find it hard to believe that this is going on in Canada. If this were a Third World country, it could be expected.
If Saanich employees have broken the law, they should all be prosecuted to the full extent of the law—not just a fine, which is usually paid for by the taxpayer—but with jail time.
Weapons of mass distraction versus creativity
The June issue of Focus was replete with eye-opening, brain-jogging, and inspiring articles that represent the best of investigative and creative journalism. One quote in the editor’s letter will be going with me today into the Grade 7 classroom where I volunteer: Kenneth Rexroth’s “Against the ruin of the world there is only one defence—the creative act.”
I’ve observed over many years of working with children that when they are busy creating art, music, writing—anything that requires their concentration on creating something—they have little or no inclination for acts of cruelty or stupidity. This is surely true for adults as well. I’ve also noticed that when children are outside enjoying the curiosities of nature they seem happy and engaged in whatever we’re doing to expand our knowledge of the natural world.
I’m going to ask our local Grade 7 class today to employ as much creativity as possible to help me find ways to wean my community off plastic water bottles at civic and public events. I wrote a letter to our local Gabriola Island newspaper before Oceans Day on June 8, asking if we could become a “Blue Community” like Bayfield, Ontario and simply refuse to use or supply water in plastic bottles when we meet for cultural and civic engagements.
After reading Ray Grigg’s article, “The future is plastic” in the June Focus, I am determined to find ways to get my fellow citizens to say “No!” to this unnecessary and completely avoidable use of plastic, not to mention the mis-use of public and natural water systems. I know when I moved to Gabriola Island 32 years ago, there was no such thing as water sold or given out free in plastic bottles. It can’t be that difficult to go back to whatever we did then to avoid the double whammy of useless plastic and water procured and supplied in environmentally harmful ways.
As always, thank you, Focus, for keeping me informed, inspired, and compelled to keep working on the issues that are crucial not just to our survival, but to our existence as creative humans with the abilities to solve the problems in our communities and on planet Earth.
Seduction by the technocrats
Gene Miller says Mike Harcourt and others want to “sanitize the place [Greater Victoria]” through amalgamation. Wrong. Resuscitate maybe. Sanitize not. Harcourt is talking most crucially about what ails the region. He is pointing to the lack of government capable of dealing with 21st century problems. The CRD is expected to govern a region made up of many small communities, each incapable of dealing with the problems they face in common.
The CRD as constituted is not capable of dealing with these problems either. That is the gist of Harcourt’s message. Members of the CRD are expected to act on behalf of the much larger region and its many complexities—sewage a notorious example—and at the same time protect the many local interests, some of which conflict with what the region—the metropolis—needs to do. This form of government might work in rural areas, it does not in the metropolis. Look no further further than the “Seaterra must go” letter in the June Focus to see the state we are in.
Harcourt offers no seduction, just a dismal prognosis if the Province does not attend to the poor health of its cities: The reform of local government is not a DIY project and the clock is running.
Gene Miller’s column on amalgamation is hardly evidence-based opinion. Most readers will remain unconvinced that a capital region of 360,000 souls is deserving of 13 municipalities, governed by 91 mayors and councillors and numerous police and fire services, not to mention a bevy of Capital Regional District directors. Most residents are willing to look at the issue, weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and make an informed decision before prematurely making a negative pronouncement and pitching predictions of doom.
Amalgamation has worked perfectly well in some jurisdictions, particularly those the size of the Capital region, with major advantages to the community. Maybe one, three or six municipalities locally would provide smarter and more effective government.
Relationships, accessibility, and belonging for citizens will surely improve in a community with moderate taxes and utility fees, an improved transportation system, an integrated police and fire service, a modern sewer system, and so on. Arguing to maintain dysfunctional tribalism, without taking a look at other options, is nothing short of bilge and codswallop.
Gene Miller replies:
Referring to amalgamation advocates in my last column, I wrote:
Amalgamation, in their view, makes an open-and-shut case for greater efficiency and savings. It seems logical.
The success of this argument has a lot to do with what financial columnist Paul Krugman calls “the power of misleading analogies between governments and households;” that is, mis-applying private financial reasoning and practices to the public economy, as if thirteen mayors was like discovering thirteen plumbing snakes hanging in your basement.
Stan Bartlett finds fault with my view that thirteen municipalities plus the Capital Regional District is just as cost-efficient as one amalgamated municipality would be.
He writes that my column is “hardly evidence-based opinion” and then goes on to deliver a set of subjective impressions about local political efficiencies, amounting to: “There’s thirteen plumbing snakes hanging in my basement.”
Let me re-state a point from the column: any review of professional literature about municipal or regional amalgamation elsewhere makes it apparent that the hope for big efficiency gains and big savings from the amalgamation of our very tightly run 13 municipalities will amount to almost nothing.
“Oh, but the Blue Bridge cost overruns!”
And amalgamated cities don’t have capital project cost overruns?
“Oh, wastewater treatment: $600,000,000!”
And in an amalgamated city that requirement and its costs go away?
“Oh, numerous police and fire services!”
And in an amalgamated city we would dump half the cops and close several fire halls?
Study after study confirms two points: except in cases where municipal management has been a shambles (big surprise: all US, no Canadian), amalgamation did not—that word again, NOT--deliver imagined or anticipated or hoped-for benefits; and second, inter-municipal co-operation has, in all Canadian cases, worked as effectively as political amalgamation to deliver social benefits and operating cost efficiencies.
Oh, and guess what: business and residential property taxes go up in amalgamated cities, too.
Bartlett claims I’m “arguing to maintain dysfunctional tribalism.” No, Mr. Bartlett, it’s highly functional localism, seen otherwise only by harumphers with too many snakes in their basement.
Wherever do people get the notion that sewage treatment is not needed? Back in the early 1990s, the mantra seemed to be “the ocean is our friend,” even as report after report began to show that, while the ocean might be our friend, we are definitely not friends of the oceans of the world. We treat the oceans like a cesspool, and because water covers a greater percentage of the Earth’s surface than does land, we (in our primordial hind brain) think its capacity is infinite. But, like they say that nearly every paper bill of currency has traces of cocaine on it, so does every scoop of ocean water have traces of some foreign substance in it, including pharmaceuticals, oil, plastics, agricultural runoff, radioactive waste, and even sunscreen—which has been shown to kill off corals.
But “out of sight is out of mind.” Why “waste” money on waste, when we can use it for more glitter?