17 April 2006

Would harassment weigh against Wells' appointment to offshore board?

Despite a decision by the Steele panel and the subsequent agreement with it by the Government of Canada, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador continues to push St. John's mayor Andy Wells as the best candidate to take on the job of chairman of the board that regulates the offshore oil and gas industry in the province.

Consider too that Wells is known to resort to a variety of abusive behaviours, as detailed in a recent story in The Telegram. Wells is quoted as referring to councillor and former mayor Shannie Duff as an arrogant snob and "a stupid old woman." The latter comment was made in front of councillors, staff and a consultant hired by city council.

According to the Telegram story:
Just in recent months, Wells has used words such as scoundrels, crooks, shameless, despicable, dumb, clowns, cowards and hypocrites to describe other members of council.

During a recent debate with Ward 4 Coun[cillor] Ron Ellsworth over city spending, Wells said the rookie councillor was "cracked."

Columnists and commentators have described Wells as abrasive, arrogant, bull-headed and overbearing, and his style of passionate debate often involves shouts and insults.
The offshore board is a joint federal-provincial agency. Just for curiosity sake, take a trip over to the federal treasury board site dealing with harassment in the federal public service.

Under federal policy, harassment is defined as any
"conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another person or persons in the workplace, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles, or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act."
That pretty much covers Wells' behaviour noted above. As the federal policy states: "Harassment affects workplace and individual well-being and will not be tolerated."

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador policy is similar. The 2001 Personal Harassment policy states, in part,:
All employees of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador are entitled to pursue their duties in a respectful workplace. It is crucial that everyone, regardless of role or position in the organization conduct themselves in a respectful manner in the workplace.

The Employer will strive to create and maintain a work environment free from harassment and discrimination by the Employer, an agent of the employer, or by other employees. No form of harassment will be tolerated by the Employer. Where harassment has been determined to have occurred, disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal will be taken.

The Employer will also encourage and provide a means through which employees can seek resolution to harassing and/or discriminatory behaviour.
Under those circumstances, it is difficult to understand why the Williams administration continues to promote Wells as the ideal candidate to take responsibility for a major federal-provincial organization when his established pattern of behaviour so clearly violates both federal and provincial policies to combat harassment in the workplace.

Were Wells to have altered his behaviour in the past, this issue might not be so important a consideration. However, Wells' most recent outbursts are part of a pattern which has shown no signs of abating over a number of years.

The issue of Andy Wells' behaviour toward people he comes into contact with in the workplace is likely to have an adverse impact on whatever potential is left in his being appointed to the offshore regulatory board. Don't count on the federal government giving in to pressure from the provincial government on Andy Wells if they can reasonably expect administrative headaches to follow. The headlines in the Globe, the Citizen and the Post would not be pretty for a minority government.

If nothing else, were Wells to be appointed, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise if there were a series of harassment complaints filed shortly afterward, that is if a host of offshore board staff didn't just hand in their resignations and take more lucrative jobs in the private sector.

Wells might be able to get away with abusive behaviour at City Hall.

In the rest of the world, his actions just wouldn't be tolerated.