03 May 2007

Blind, deaf, mute and no sense of smell

I am amused by the Opposition House Leader’s newly-acquired sense of smell. We do not do things by smell over here; we do them the right way.
Natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale,
on the Joan Cleary affair,
House of Assembly, 12 December 2006

The saga of Joan Cleary, untendered contracts at Bull Arm, her resignation, her $40,000 in severance and now her candidacy for the Progressive Conservative nomination in a provincial electoral district has gone through a bit of an evolution.

What happened depends on when you ask the question, apparently.

For example, try to figure out the circumstances surrounding Cleary's resignation from the patronage job.

Here's the version told last December 7 by Kathy Dunderdale, minister of natural resources:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will endeavour to find the answers to those questions.

Mr. Speaker, I have been providing information in this House since last Wednesday with regard to the security shed contract. I have maintained, and still maintain, that everything was done within the Public Tender Act, although there were two oversights, which we take very seriously. Because of the uncovering of those two oversights, I instructed my staff to review all recent contracts with the Bull Arm Corporation. As a result of that review, I have found an instance of where work was let at the site and the proper process was not followed, although, I have determined, to my satisfaction, that there was no intentional wrongdoing or political interference. This government is committed to transparency, accountability, openness, and we are fully committed to the Public Tender Act. As a result of the concerns that have been raised on this piece of work, I have asked for and received Ms Cleary’s resignation.

Note that last part. Dunderdale is clear. Let's skip the fact that she blurted out the de facto firing in the question, not as a news release or any other major statement.

Dunderdale's investigation turned up problems, so she asked for Cleary's resignation. Asked for it. That has implications for any severance. If a person resigns, there may or may not be severance, depending on the contract.

If someone is fired for cause, then there wouldn't be severance. And frankly, if your boss asks for your resignation, odds are good you are only a hair's breadth from being punted.

Fast forward to May and here's the story as told on Wednesday by intergovernmental affairs minister John Ottenheimer:
Mr. Speaker, yes, in accordance with the terms and provisions of an employment contract, Ms. Cleary is and was entitled to severance. It was done. It was clear, in accordance with the terms and the provisions of the contract, that she would be entitled to severance. There were some concerns, Mr. Speaker, at the time. Ms Cleary tendered her resignation. Her resignation was accepted by my colleague, who is in Houston today at an oil show. It was accepted by my colleague, the Minister of Natural Resources, and in accordance with the terms and provisions of an employment contract, severance was paid, as she was duly owed.
There's more than a little significance to the missing detail in Ottenheimer's version of events. Dunderdale asked Cleary to resign, at least according to Dunderdale's accounting, and there is no question that Dunderdale took the action as a result of what her officials found in a review of tendering practices at the Crown corporation.

Now, Cleary appears to have just tendered her resignation of her own volition. Of course there were "some concerns", as Ottenheimer soft peddles but those concerns were apparently not too significant, at least by the implication of how Ottenheimer put it.

Why is that important? Well, it may affect the entitlement to severance under the terms of Cleary's contract - if we could see the contract. It also minimises the magnitude of what occurred that triggered Cleary's departure. It would be very important politically for the government running Cleary as a candidate in the next election to downplay the episode or obscure the details.

And, ya know, it's not like they haven't done that before.

Take a look at Dunderdale's answer again.

The trigger for the resignation was "an instance of where work was let at the site and the proper process was not followed". Dunderdale assures us all of government's commitment to the Public Tender Act.

But it took five working days - indeed the next day the legislature sat for Dunderdale to spit out the full story:
Mr. Speaker, on Thursday of last week, we realized that there had not been any pubic call for bids, tenders, or Request for Proposals. That was a very serious situation outside the Public Tender Act. As a result, there were very serious actions taken.
A complete violation of the Public Tender Act. Work done without a contract, as it turned out, let alone a tender. Dunderdale admitted to the legislature that the work had been completed and government lawyers were then trying to write a contract with the company involved after the whole business was ended.

Bond Papers went through the whole sorry business when it occurred. There's a tick tock at the end of one post that traces the evolution of what Dunderdale admitted at what points in time on the Cleary affair.

The story as it finally emerged before Christmas was substantially different from what government disclosed at the outset.

And it is dramatically different than the apparently routine business Ottenheimer described in the House on Wednesday.

Of course, when you read all of the details, as admitted in the legislature over time, go back and consider the other comments Ottenheimer made about Cleary.

It would make one think that government actually does its business by smell. If something smells bad - as this entire Cleary affair does - then they assume the public are not merely without any sense of smell, but, as the phrase goes blind, deaf, and mute as well.

The only thing Mr. Ottenheimer and his colleagues should hope for is that Cleary is soundly defeated for the nomination. Only then will this be truly put to the end it deserves.