Education Minister Jeff Johnson flips burgers at Alison Redford’s K-Days Breakfast, last year. A sign of things to come for Mr. Johnson? Below: Premier Dave Hancock, who knows what he needs to do, former premier Redford, who knew exactly what she wanted, and Alberta Information Commissioner Jill Clayton, who knows the law.
Now that we know Education Minister Jeff Johnson or someone in his office broke Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to send an email to more than 34,000 teachers back in 2013, is it time for Dave Hancock to start acting like he really is Alberta’s Premier and kick Mr. Johnson out of cabinet?
Mr. Johnson has been behaving like the proverbial bull in the china shop for months in his ongoing feud with Alberta’s teachers and the Alberta Teachers Association, their combined union and regulatory body.
But back in the days when Alison Redford was premier and the Progressive Conservative government was in a state of open warfare with all manner of public employees, Mr. Johnson was arguably just following orders.
Ms. Redford is no longer the premier, though, and lately the government has been trying hard to patch up its relationship with the public employees who saved its bacon in the closely fought 2012 election, including the province’s public and Catholic schoolteachers. Jim Prentice, the front-runner in the party leadership race to permanently replace Ms. Redford, has promised to try even harder. Premier Hancock has made gentle cooing noises too.
But Mr. Johnson – who apparently didn’t get the memo from either the premier pro tem or the premier apparent – just goes on, day after day, fighting the war with the teachers, digging the foundering PC party into an ever-deepening hole with a large group of potential allies.
Mr. Johnson isn’t the first Tory education minister to have a pointless scrap with the ATA – the names Lyle Oberg, who served in the job for premier Ralph Klein, and Ron Liepert, who did it for premier Ed Stelmach, spring immediately to mind. But he is the first to actually threaten the government’s survival with his antics.
After outraging the ATA by overruling some of its disciplinary actions, which Mr. Johnson deemed insufficiently harsh, just this week the minister demanded a decade’s worth of disciplinary reports be handed over to him by the province’s 61 school boards in the next two weeks.
That he had been asked, in effect, to please not do that kind of stuff any more by Mr. Prentice, presumably because it so obviously undermines the heir apparent’s charm offensive to public employees, apparently made not a whit of difference to Mr. Johnson.
No sooner had the ATA reacted angrily to that, than Alberta Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton issued a report yesterday that confirmed – just as the ATA had alleged when it asked for an investigation of the emails, which were sent in February 2013 – that the mass mailing was illegal under the FOIP Act.
Mr. Johnson’s purpose in sending the February 2013 email was to wade into the teachers’ negotiations for new contracts with the province’s 61 school boards that were then ongoing. From a labour-relations perspective, that too was a pretty iffy strategy – an effort to go around their bargaining teams and negotiate directly with teachers.
In the email, he told teachers that their negotiations were over and the province would never budge on what it had offered them: a three-year wage freeze and a wage increase of only 2 per cent in the fourth year. Some of the emails the government had on file were personal, though, and it was those the ATA complained about and Ms. Clayton confirmed the minister had no right to use under the FOIP Act.
From the government’s perspective, Ms. Clayton’s timing for releasing her report could hardly have been more inauspicious!
Or … maybe not. In every crisis, as the business gurus are always telling us, lie the seeds of opportunity.
Maybe Mr. Johnson didn’t care and instructed his department to ignore the FOIP law. Maybe it was just a mistake. Maybe it was a mistake by a minor official.
Under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, though, it really doesn’t matter.
“According to the doctrine,” says my favourite Canadian politics textbook, “the minister who heads each department must be accountable to the House of Commons (or the provincial Legislature) for the conduct of each and every civil servant working in that department.”
“On the most basic level, this means that ministers may be asked in the House to investigate allegations of incompetence or impropriety in their departments and take appropriate measures,” explain authors Patrick Malcolmson and Richard Meyers in The Canadian Regime.
“If the incompetence or impropriety is substantial and may be attributed to poor management, however, the stakes become much higher,” they write. “Under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility the minister must take personal responsibility for major problems of mismanagement.
“In more serious cases of mismanagement, this means the minister must resign.”
Under the circumstances, this is a pretty serious case of mismanagement.
And if the minister won’t resign, his boss – no matter what deals were made in caucus when Ms. Redford was overthrown in March – is within his rights to fire him.
If Mr. Hancock won’t do that, now that the troublesome Mr. Johnson has been found to be in a serious violation of privacy law, one of two conclusions is inescapable:
- The rules in Alberta still only apply to the rest of us, never to the PC Government or its friends – all that talk about an end to entitlement was just talk; or…
- The Tory war with Alberta’s public employees is still on, at least as far as teachers are concerned
Neither of those conclusions is particularly auspicious for the future of the Progressive Conservative Government in its present straits.
Premier Hancock knows what he needs to do…
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Did Alberta Health Services really send that Tweet?
On the very day it announced to a skeptical pubic that 2013 would be an, er, costly year for Alberta Health Services because of huge buyouts paid to a passel of executives pushed out the door, did someone at AHS really send out a Tweet saying: “Know when to quit. If you are truly miserable because of a stressful job, it may be time to think about changing jobs. #stress”
D’ya think? Especially if there’s $1.7 million on the table for you, as there was for one senior executive who walked or was pushed in 2013. A total of $2.4 million was also paid to five VPs who got the bum’s rush but had contracts that stipulated they had to be paid 12 months or more of their base salary at the time of their dismissal.
Angry taxpayers are sure to notice, and not just the Tweet.
It would appear, though, that the inspirational message was the real McCoy. A screenshot of the Tweet appears below – surely it will disappear some time today. Credit where credit is due, this was spotted by my sharp-eyed fellow blogger, Dave Cournoyer, author of the excellent Daveberta.ca blog.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca. Happy Independence Day to our American friends and readers.