Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Stephen Harper Conservatives' Rule Breaking Rush to Crush Unions with Bill C-377

Prime Minister Stephen Harper - his Senators broke their own rules
'Suicidal excess': A lifelong- Conservative says his party will pay for ramming anti-labour Act through Senate.  Law professor: "Bill C-377 is government red tape on steroids."

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 30, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"There's nothing democratic about what's going on here. It's like watching the Roman Empire collapse."

- BC Liberal Senator Larry Campbell on Conservative  senators imposing Bill C-377

Is there anything more undemocratic than Canada's most tainted organization -- the Conservative-controlled Senate -- breaking its rules and then overturning its own Conservative Speaker's ruling, all to hurriedly impose anti-union legislation before the federal election?

That's what happened last week with Bill C-377, an odious private members' bill shepherded from beginning to end by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's own office, passed by Parliament's Conservative majority and sent to the Senate for approval.

When Liberal, independent and even Conservative senators tried to delay passage of the legislation through extended debate, the Conservative Senate majority moved a motion to end debate.

And after Senate Speaker Leo Housakos -- a Conservative appointed by Harper only last month -- said their motion was "inconsistent with the basic principles of our rules and practices," they simply challenged Housakos' ruling and voted it down.

The rules of the Senate don't apply if inconvenient to Harper's political goals.

'Suicidal' strategy: Segal

But the move may badly backfire, says the former Conservative senator who led a successful revolt against it in 2013 when it first went to the Senate.

"Why somebody would decide that kind of suicidal, ideologically narrow excess is in the national or the party's interests or the prime minister's interests is completely beyond me," Hugh Segal said last week.

And Segal, a lifelong Conservative who also served as former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's chief of staff, said overruling the Senate speaker further undermines its already battered credibility -- disgraced as it has been with Mike Duffy charged and Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau and other Conservative senators under investigation.

"So, whatever the defences were for the continuing existence of the institution and its relevance...those who voted against the Speaker have just cut a huge hole in that flag," says Segal. A final vote on Bill C-377 should come this week.  UPDATE:  Bill C-377 was passed by the Senate on June 30

C-377 will cost millions to administer

So why are the Harper Conservatives so fixated on C-377?

And why do seven provinces, every union and labour organization in Canada, the National Hockey League Players' Association, the Canadian Bar Association, police associations and many others all strongly object to the legislation?

Bill C-377 is clearly intended to tie unions up with costly bureaucratic administrative costs, though Conservatives say it is about "transparency."

Every union expenditure over $5,000 must be publicly reported and posted online -- something no other group faces -- not organizations for lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers or indeed any professional association.

That means not only salaries of staff but also fees for lawyers, accountants, contractors and consultants (including firms like mine). Plus the cost of collective bargaining, pension funds, education and political action, administration and much more.

And taxpayers can expect the legislation will cost the federal government itself $20 million to administer in its first two years.

As York University law professor David Doorey says: "Bill C-377 is government red tape on steroids."

Yet it's the work of a Conservative government that says it opposes bureaucracy -- unless it applies to its political opponents.

Breaking their own rules and voting down their own representative to crush their opponents with red tape they profess to hate -- the Conservatives are running all the red lights on their own morality.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Were BC Liberals protecting Big Pharma with Health Researcher Firings? Many Theories, No Answers

Unproven court document allegations another reason why calls for a public inquiry will only grow louder.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 23, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

I don't want the truth. I want something I can tell the Parliament!"

- Cabinet Minister James Hacker in Yes Minister

Premier Christy Clark's refusal to call a public inquiry into the B.C. government's admittedly wrongful firing of eight health ministry researchers and contractors -- and what the BC NDP alleges was a cover up -- is already a bad decision.

What makes it worse is that now many questions are being asked about why the government would refuse to forward information to the RCMP for an investigation for so long the police closed the file -- something the BC Liberals never admitted to until a freedom of information request disclosed it.

Why were those people fired and publicly tarred and feathered by government -- only to later see most of them rehired or compensated for wrongful dismissal?

One researcher -- Roderick MacIsaac -- was so distressed with his reputation being destroyed that he sadly took his life.

So what was so important for the government to take this extreme action and then risk covering their tracks -- claiming there was an "ongoing police investigation" when actually they wouldn't give the RCMP files to examine?

The most damaging allegation -- contained in a defamation lawsuit claim by fired contractor William Warburton -- is explosive.

Warburton charged in 2013 that the firings were motivated by the government's need to protect the interest of big pharmaceutical companies who were also major donors to the BC Liberal Party.

"The province's acts against Dr. Warburton are part of a bad-faith program by the defendants to end the investigation of harmful effects of drugs which risk leading to diminishing payments to their political contributors, and constitute misfeasance in public office as the defendants were aware that their deliberate acts against Dr. Warburton were illegal and would likely harm him," court documents say.

The government hotly denied those allegations in response to Warburton's statement of claim -- and nothing has been examined or proven in court to date. Warburton's defamation case continues.

But the lack of a public inquiry means theories like Warburton's can make as much as sense as any -- until testimony under oath is heard.

Warburton's court filing lists several major pharmaceutical companies as making "very profitable drugs" that he was investigating as to their effectiveness, including possible side effects.

His studies, Warburton claimed, "had the potential of disrupting financially significant payments to large pharmaceutical companies, many of who were major contributors to the Liberal Party..."

Warburton's court document then lists several firms, including: Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada; Janssen Inc.; AstraZeneca Canada Inc.; and Eli Lilly Canada Inc.

The donation record

A search of Elections BC financial donation records shows the following total contributions to the BC Liberal Party and its candidates were made between 2005 and 2015:

Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada: $25,894

Pfizer Canada Inc.: $41,277

Janssen Inc. & Janssen-Ortho Inc.: $31,734

AstraZeneca Canada Inc.: $12,698

Eli Lilly Canada Inc.: $6,323

In addition, Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies -- an umbrella group -- is recorded by Elections BC as contributing $27,908 to the BC Liberals in the same period.

And the BC NDP -- which is calling for a public inquiry -- has previously hammered the BC Liberal government for attempting to eliminate the independent research Therapeutics Initiative program, which evaluates the effectiveness of pharmaceuticals and has saved the province millions of taxpayer dollars and hundreds of lives.

In 2008 a task force the government created -- with at least five of its nine members having close pharmaceutical industry connections -- recommended the Therapeutics Initiative be shut down. 

The president of Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies was among those appointed. The Therapeutics Initiative survived the report.

But it should be noted that the BC NDP received $1,475 from the Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies and also contributing to the BC NDP from 2005 to 2015 were: Novartis Pharmaceutical Canada Inc. - $6,075; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc - $5,550; Pfizer Canada Inc. - $645; and Eli Lilly Canada - $425.

And the amount of total donations from "big pharma" to the BC Liberal Party at $145,834 is far from the largest compared to the $1,088,104 donated by the New Car Dealers Association of BC or the $607,638 they got from Bosa Development and related firms or the $353,945 from developer Peter Wall or the $241,350 they received from real estate mogul Bob Rennie, for example. But neither is it insignificant.

BCers want the truth

Again -- none of Warburton's allegations have been tested or proven in court and have been rejected expressly by the B.C. government.

But if nothing else, the fact that pharmaceutical companies are named in a legal filing by one of the fired health researchers would in itself be good reason for a public inquiry to clear the air and find out what really happened.

And that the B.C. government wrongly fired and tarnished its own researchers, frustrated any possible police investigation and then covered it all up can only fuel speculation about what else they might be hiding.

That's why calls for a public inquiry will only grow louder.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

BC Health Ministry Researcher Firings Deserve a Public Inquiry

Dark clouds over the BC Legislature - Bill Tieleman photo
Far too many unanswered questions in 2012 dismissals and cover up.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday June 16, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties."

- Frank Underwood, U.S. President in House of Cards, Netflix

Powerful government forces suddenly fire eight health ministry researchers and contractors, alleging they breached the privacy of sensitive patient files regarding pharmaceuticals and that the police are investigating.

One researcher sadly commits suicide; the others are pariahs, unable to work while government suspends their $4-million research project.

The ruling party, one of those fired alleged in a lawsuit, accepted significant political donations from big pharmaceutical companies selling products to government health plans. The fired researcher continues with a defamation lawsuit against a former minister. 

Then -- shocker -- it's disclosed there was no police investigation, because the government never turned over information on the alleged offences.

Most of the researchers, who had filed wrongful dismissal and defamation lawsuits or grievances through their union, are reinstated or paid compensation.

No senior official is publicly disciplined for firings -- and government refuses to say who was responsible or why it happened.

A veteran lawyer hired to review the firings complains about the lack of government records, and says that -- and the unwillingness of officials to cooperate -- means questions about who ordered the dismissals and why "remain unanswered."

But it's not a deadly and manipulatively cynical segment from the hit Netflix show House of Cards -- it's reality under the BC Liberal government.

'Difficult' questions unanswered

Despite an uproar when it was disclosed the RCMP never received government information to launch an investigation into the firings, Premier Christy Clark rejects a public inquiry to find the truth.

Further, Clark declined offers from then-deputy minister of health Graham Whitmarsh to cooperate with an "independent and full review" of the firings or his suggestion that B.C.'s auditor general investigate the matter.

Clark's own deputy minister, John Dyble, and Lynda Tarras, deputy minister and head of the Public Service Agency, are alleged by Whitmarsh to have been involved in briefings regarding the original firings -- and were therefore, he claims, in a conflict of interest in the government review.

Deputy attorney general Richard Fyfe rejected that claim.

Whitmarsh declined to participate in the review, saying it was not sufficiently independent of government while noting that was not the fault of experienced labour lawyer Marcia McNeil, who conducted it.

McNeil, who did not interview the fired researchers for her review, nevertheless was damning in her conclusions.

"I have found that the investigation was flawed from the outset, as it was embarked upon with a pre-conceived theory of employee misconduct," McNeil wrote. "Two of the most difficult questions I considered during my review were who effectively made the dismissal decisions and what factors were considered. Those questions remain unanswered."

Nor has the government apologized to many of the researchers, only saying sorry to the family of Roderick MacIsaac, who took his own life after the firings.

Employees humiliated, angry

NDP critic Adrian Dix has doggedly pursued this case for three years, and said in an email interview Sunday: "This was an abuse of power by the powerful, all reporting to Premier Clark, that ruined lives and damaged health care. They can't be allowed to get away with it."

Leave the last words to Ron Mattson, one of the fired researchers who won a settlement for wrongful dismissal. Mattson is a respected project manager and also city councillor in View Royal near Victoria who was re-elected last fall to his seventh term.

Mattson said the B.C. government's repeated claims that the RCMP was investigating -- when the police never got any information -- were intentionally vengeful.

"Even though there was a settlement, telling the public there was a police investigation... you are still tainted. It was done to support the firings, and basically we all felt it was done to humiliate us and beat us down, otherwise why would you make up a story like that? We are angry," Mattson told CBC Radio last week.

And the only way to get to the truth?

"We want to find out who is responsible and we want those responsible to have to pay some sort of consequence, and probably the only way to do that is if there is a formal public inquiry," Mattson said.

Exactly. A public inquiry is needed.