Political interference cited in firing

The territory’s workers’ advocate could use a little advocacy himself. Mike Travill has been suspended without pay after spending a…

The territory’s workers’ advocate could use a little advocacy himself.

Mike Travill has been suspended without pay after spending a decade as the territory’s workers’ advocate.

His superiors want him fired.

Travill was also the Liberal campaign manager in the last election.

Opposition MLAs are calling his firing politically motivated, comparing it to something that happens only in a Third-World republic.

On workers’ compensation himself since June because of an injured leg and recurring post-traumatic stress disorder (years ago, he was crushed and seriously injured while working in a steel mill), Travill was told earlier this week he is under investigation for the hours of work he logged during the five years he spent on the workers’ compensation act review panel.

But Travill is speaking out.

The government is obstructing — if not outright deleting — the information he needs to defend himself, he said.

The government appointed Travill to the act-review panel in 2002.

That work took him away from his advocate job. But Peter Jenkins, then the minister responsible for the workers’ compensation board, assured him there would be no problem if his government job did not suffer, said Travill.

Travill recorded his government hours — when he came in early or stayed late to make up time spent on the panel — in a diary.

He also documented the time spent on the panel — 26 days and two half-days this year, 11 days and seven half-days in 2006 and going back to the first and only day the panel met in 2002.

Things were fine until the act review finished this April, said Travill.

That’s when the director of staff relations with the Public Service Commission raised concerns about his double-dipping.

She asked Travill to provide proof of the hours he spent as worker’s advocate.

For five years, he had not been asked to confirm his hours, said Travill.

“No annual review, no requests for information, no concern — nothing,” he said.

“I was shocked. I had no doubt things were on the up and up.”

The Public Service Commission wouldn’t accept his personal log as proof — he could have just pulled all of that out of a hat, he was told.

But Travill kept e-mails he sent from his office that confirmed the sometimes odd hours he worked to make up for his absence.

“I told them about the e-mails going back to the day I started and it was the first time I mentioned I had these,” said Travill.

When he was later told to compile the e-mails for a report to the Public Service Commission, his e-mails were gone from his computer.

And other files had been moved around, he said.

“Somehow, between telling them I had these records and going back to get it for the report, these files went missing or had been altered,” said Travill.

Soon after his e-mails went missing, the assistant deputy minister of Justice told Travill he was suspended without pay and there is a recommendation to fire him.

“The evidence to support a termination is very weak,” said Travill. “It requires a huge onus of proof on the employer’s behalf. There must be some interference. One of the reasons could have been my political involvement.

“The coincidences seem to be mounting,” he said.

This summer, Justice had started a job search for a management position in the worker’s advocate office.

The duties of the new job mirrored those of Travill’s, prompting the Yukon Employees’ Union to pressure the government to abandon its search.

This was the first failed attempt to curtail his work, said Travill.

“As soon at that finished, they go after me with this,” he said, referring to his current battle with the department.

His has filed a grievance with his union and is appealing to the deputy minister.

His suspension and impending firing set off a storm of questions from the Liberals in question period Tuesday.

The political targeting of Travill sends a clear message to bureaucrats “carrying the wrong political card,” said opposition leader Arthur Mitchell.

“Don’t get involved in politics and campaign against the Yukon Party or you’ll lose your job,” he said.

Minister of Justice Marion Horne responded the first question from the Liberals about Travill.

After that, Glenn Hart, minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, fielded the questions.

The government doesn’t comment on personnel issues, said Hart.

“Is the government keeping a list of Liberal and NDP campaign workers and executive members, so they can pick them off one by one?” said Mitchell, who was repeatedly reprimanded by the Speaker Ted Staffen for his incendiary language.

The Liberal’s accusations tarnish every MLA in the legislature and department officials, said NDP leader Todd Hardy.

The proof of political interference was not substantial enough, he added.

“This is the worst type of politics possible and I don’t want to be connected with it at all,” said Hardy.

“This is fear mongering and it sends a chill through the public sector.”

But if the Liberal claims prove true, then “heads should roll,” he added.

The argument that Travill deserves access to his work computer after he was fired because of the confidential nature of his work doesn’t fly with Hardy.

The usual practice is to freeze an employee’s computer immediately after a firing, and the client information on Travill’s computers aren’t his personal files, said Hardy.

“He’s not the advocate anymore so he shouldn’t have access to the files,” said Hardy.

An active member of the NDP before jumping to the Liberal Party, Travill had been appointed to his position by the Piers MacDonald government in 1997.

Horne refused to comment for this story.

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