The territorial government is promising to make severance paid to deputy ministers public but insists it can’t currently be done because of antiquated access to information rules.
The News has been asking for information on how many government employees have been let go by the Liberal government during its tenure with or without cause. The News also asked how much those public servants have been paid in severance.
The government has refused to provide that information claiming it would violate the Yukon’s Access to Information and Personal Privacy Act (ATIPP). Even global totals of how many people have been let go and how much has been spent on severance are off limits. The public service commission believes releasing those global numbers would qualify as violating personal privacy because of how few people have been let go, according to the department.
In 2016, prior to becoming premier, Sandy Silver took the former government to task for refusing to release details when 10 deputy ministers were let go over 18 months.
“When the premier hires deputy ministers and then fires them, there’s a cost to the taxpayer — hundreds of thousands of dollars each time that this happens,” he said at the time.
“It is very unfortunate that this government keeps having to do this and it is even worse when it refuses to tell the public what this major turnover at the highest level of public service is costing the taxpayers.”
At the time Liberal officials said a Liberal government would do things differently.
Richard Mostyn, the current minister responsible for the public service commission, said he wants “to bring the issue of DM severance into the light.”
“I’m talking specifically about the severance that this government pays to DMs that are released from their role in the government.”
Mostyn said he is working with the department to figure out how that information would be released.
The Liberals have promised changes to the ATIPP Act that are supposed to be part of the next sitting of the legislative assembly.
The minister stopped short of promising to release severance details for anyone other than deputy ministers.
Deputy ministers are appointed to their positions and serve at the pleasure of the premier, he explained.
“If you go too far down that food chain you’re into the unionized employees and that’s not fair to them,” he said.
“The only employees serving at the pleasure of the premier in the Yukon government are our deputy ministers. They’re a special class of employees and the rest are covered by the public service commission and the rules there are much more stringent.”
The current act says the government can release private information if the person in question gives consent. Even if the paperwork were signed, under the current act releasing the information would be at the discretion of the government.
Deputy minister severance is not explicitly mentioned in the public survey about the changes that has been released.
The public engagement has nine “broad categories,” Mostyn said.
“That’s sort of the broad brush strokes, but within that body of work there’s going to be a lot of specifics and ways that we handle personal information and access to information. And those details have not yet been worked out.”
Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers criticized the government for planning changes that aren’t being discussed with the public.
“What else is hidden behind the curtain in the fine print? With legislation that has this much impact on not only access to information but protection of personal information it really is an area where I think the government should be showing Yukoners the details, not just a handful of questions that they decided were the most worthy of consulting on.”
If the government follows through on its promise to release severance details for deputy ministers, that would be a “positive step,” Cathers said.
Cathers said he would also like to see more details about the transition costs that come with hiring new deputy ministers, pointing out that one of the deputy ministers who no longer works for the government previously worked in Australia.
Cathers said the current Yukon Party caucus agrees with the sitting government that details about other government employees, beyond pay ranges that are already a matter of public record, should be kept private.
“With deputy ministers what we see as the distinction is, those are political appointees and ultimately the decision to hire a deputy minister or to fire a deputy minister, is a decision made by the premier,” he said.
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