Stonewalling whistle blower legislation from the Speaker’s chair

Ted Staffen used his power as Speaker of the legislative assembly to quash complaints about his handling of a committee on whistle-blower protection.

Ted Staffen used his power as Speaker of the legislative assembly to quash complaints about his handling of a committee on whistle-blower protection.

Staffen suppressed a leaked report from the Select Committee on Whistle-Blower Protection tabled by two opposition committee members Monday.

Staffen is the chair of the whistle-blower committee.

And, when he refused to schedule a committee meeting, Liberal Eric Fairclough and New Democratic member Steve Cardiff leaked its report.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, when the report came before the house, Staffen, as speaker, suppressed it.

Referring to the legislature’s Standing Orders, he ruled any report must be signed by a committee chair before it can be tabled in the assembly.

“The Standing Orders do not provide for members of the committee to present a minority report,” he said.

“The document tabled by the member for Mount Lorne and the member for Mayo-Tatchun does not meet the criteria of the Standing Orders and this tabling is, therefore, not in order,” he said.

Staffen’s ruling purged the report from the public record.

There was no mention of the blatant conflict of interest at issue in Staffen’s ruling.

Usually, the Speaker will defer such business to the deputy speaker. However, deputy Speaker Steve Nordick also sits on the whistle-blower committee.

“It doesn’t really leave us with much in the way of options,” said Floyd McCormick, the clerk of the legislative assembly, who spoke the day before Staffen’s ruling on what might happen.

“We don’t have a deputy deputy Speaker,” he said.

Staffen, who refused comment, prevented a much more severe punishment from being meted out on Fairclough and Cardiff.

In other jurisdictions, leaking a committee document has led to members being found in contempt of the legislature, said McCormick.

That process has to be sparked by a member of the assembly, who would have raised it on a question of privilege.

Staffen, as Speaker, would then have decided if a vote on the issue of contempt should be held.

If found in contempt, Fairclough and Cardiff could have been suspended from the house.

It was a price they were willing to pay for publicizing the little-known work of the committee, which has been meeting for about three and a half years.

“The government doesn’t have any interest in whistle-blower legislation,” said Cardiff, at a joint news conference with Fairclough Monday morning.

“Otherwise this could have been tabled at the beginning of the sitting.”

The leaked report was finished and delivered to committee members on May 18.

Over the summer and early fall, Cardiff e-mailed Staffen nearly a dozen times to set up a meeting.

“I sent e-mails July 4, August 12, August 25, in September, and I sent e-mails and letters in October,” he said.

“It’s basically met with silence or sorry I can’t attend.”

The stonewalling is nearly four years in the making.

That’s when the New Democrats first tabled whistle-blower legislation, which the Yukon Party majority defeated.

But in a subsequent motion, the government agreed to set up the committee.

It received input from the chambers of commerce, unions, the Public Service Commission and Crown corporations, said Cardiff.

“The sense of frustration for me and Eric is we thought we were going to be finished in this sitting,” he said.

They were expecting the report to be tabled, and then sent to the Public Service Commission to be drafted into legislation.

“Let’s get on with it,” said Cardiff.

But the prospects look grim.

Staffen made his ruling on the last day of the legislature and any more action will have to wait until spring.

Cardiff doesn’t think the Yukon Party government will ever pass it, but the work of the committee should be kept in the legislative record so it can be dusted off by another government, he said.

The report is a 29-page summary of the committee’s work.

It met 13 times and sent letters to several organizations asking for their input on whistle-blower protection laws.

It’s not currently against the law for someone to report illegal behaviour in the government.

What the legislation would do is protect a whistle-blower from retribution by their superiors.

The report examines critical questions, like whether legislation should only apply to public servants, or to contractors and the private sector as well.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a consensus on the best way to legislate whistle-blower protection, a clerk for the committee determined.

The United States and Canada both have federal whistle-blower laws. Canada’s only covers the public service, while the United States’ covers the private sector as well.

Provincially, Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador only cover the public sector, while British Columbia covers the private sector as well.

The Yukon’s law should only cover the public sector, the report advises.

But that includes government-related corporations, except for the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation, it says.

First Nations should be covered too, unless they have their own whistle-blower protection laws, but federal bureaucrats could not use the Yukon law, the report says.

Complaints managed by a whistle-blower office should cover anything illegal, gross mismanagement of funds and anything endangering life, health or the environment, it says.

While reluctant to provide examples of retribution to the media, Cardiff and Fairclough believe the law is necessary for good government.

“I’m sure that if it was in place now, there would be some government employees using it,” said Fairclough.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com

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