Home > News and politics > This Week’s Theme in Canadian Politics: Incompetence

This Week’s Theme in Canadian Politics: Incompetence

08-Jun-09 09:55 pm EDT Leave a comment Go to comments
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hether it’s the Ontario Liberals appointing an apparently greedy, corrupt and/or person of dubious competence to Ontario’s eHealth Medical Records Agency, or tonight’s bombshell on the federal Conservative’s Natural Resources Minister, Lisa Raitt making extremely ill-conceived comments about her colleagues in taped discourse; this has been a bad week for politicians.  Heck, it’s been a bad month, and it’s only the 8thof June!

First we have Sarah Kramer, CEO of eHealth Ontario being fired – by mutual consent of the eHealth board and the Ontario government – because of numerous spending irregularities.  Consultants were paid large sums for watching documentary videos and chatting on the Toronto subway.  Of course, there was the mitigating factor that some of the consultants were either known personally by Kramer or her husband.  And it was far more common for contracts to go untendered prior to being awarded.  None of the consultants seem to have been doing work related to advancing the mission of eHealth – which is to design and implement a provincial health records system by 2015.

Contrasted with another failed government technology project, the federal firearms registry, this is a vastly more complex project.  Yet despite Kramer’s past experience serving as CIO of Cancer Care Ontario, there’s no public evidence (I could find) she’s ever led a technology effort of this scale.  And whatever medical records experience she might have gained there would surely be inadequate to meet the challenges at eHealth.

So why are unqualified people being asked to lead government technology projects?  I speculate that the incompetent leadership, unsure how to proceed, deliver little but decide to work the levers of newfound power turning into these gigantic money-pits.  Perhaps believing that because technology implies complexity and lots of subject matter auditors won’t understand, they can get away with lax standards managing expenses or even giveaways to friends.  Such conduct might even suggest there’s a little truth in the matter – and that such practices are common elsewhere in government.

Too cynical a view?  Well to be honest, I thought I was being a little cynical having these suspicions – until our next story broke, thanks to due diligence by a Halifax Chronicle Herald reporter, based in Ottawa, went back over some material collecting dust in his office since January to find the latest torpedo to hit the Conservative cabinet:

Stephen Maher is to be congratulated heartily for bringing us this rare glimpse of thinking within the Conservative cabinet.  Tapes were left behind in the Ottawa press gallery and somehow ended up in Maher’s hands.  Raitt’s assistant, Jasmine MacDonnell – already in the spotlight for getting fired thanks to leaving behind sensitive documents concerning the Chalk River nuclear reactor (embroiled in a medical isotope scandal) – was told about the tapes back in January, but never picked them up from Maher.  Maher finally decided to examine the contents of the tapes, and was set to publish his story on Friday until MacDonnell filed for an injunction to prevent publication.  A Nova Scotia Superior Court Judge dismissed her motion earlier this afternoon.

Where’s the story of incompetence here?  Well, it’s hard to distinguish, frankly.  I don’t think MacDonnell is entirely to blame for merely leaving a wake of sensitive material wherever she went (although there’s some truth in that notion), but the Natural Resources Minister doesn’t seem to have been particularly concerned about these items, until it was far too late.  And it’s not as if Raitt was lacking systems to track these items – especially the Chalk River file.  Someone asserted today that the tape was made without her knowledge, which seems incredible.  And, even if true, and she didn’t know about the recording or the tape or its being misplaced; she still was the one responsible for hiring MacDonnell and putting her in a position to do so much damage.

Yet the real incompetence of this leader wasn’t in the particular mishaps leading to today’s story.  It was she herself stating how she thought of her colleagues and, more importantly, how she regarded the Chalk River matter – as something that money could fix.  She was prepared, according to the tape, to do nothing about the problems of Chalk River and wait for money to fix the problem and then perhaps even take credit for it later!

It will forever amaze me how we, as a people, can vote such personalities into elected office.  That no matter how much scrutiny we expose our politicians to, there’s always enough disbelief, ideology and marketing gloss to cover up the inadequacies of our leaders and let them mis-spend or simply take all our money, compromise critical aspects of our health care system through technical or professional incompetence, and even destroy confidence in democracy; something for which we have ourselves partly to blame.  Of course, I believe it possible to fix the system.  But, as with anything, it will take our collective will to put greater emphasis on seeing our money spent properly.  In the Ontario case, the eHealth fiasco is actually the second time this agency is facing overhaul – but the result might be success on the third attempt.

As a closing note to this story: the CBC promises more to come on the eHealth file as they continue processing various tips filed from named and anonymous sources so, stay tuned!

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Terry Glavin

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