Auditor releases scathing report into Workers Compensation Board

Provincial auditor Jon Singleton released a report Tuesday criticizing the way the Workers Compensation Board was run under former chair Wally Fox-Decent.

Provincial auditor Jon Singleton released a report Tuesday criticizing the way the Workers Compensation Board was run under former chair Wally Fox-Decent.

Singleton said Fox-Decent was excessively involved in the day-to-day operations of the WCB, and that the organization fostered a "hostile working environment," that its structure was outdated, and that some on the board displayed an "absence of financial literacy."

In releasing the report Tuesday, Singleton also said he was disappointed the WCB was not more co-operative with his office during his investigation – behaviour he described as "inappropriate."

Singleton said several people who were interviewed showed "significant apprehension" about the potential effect on their careers and reputations if they said anything negative about the WCB.

"This is the first time that a public-sector organization disputed our right of full and uninhibited access to information," Singleton said.

The auditor also pointed a finger at the provincial government for not protecting former board CEO Pat Jacobsen, an employee who came forward with concerns about the WCB before the investigation began.

Jacobsen complained to the provincial government in 2001 about Fox-Decent – but her letter was forwarded back to the Workers Compensation Board.

To prevent similar circumstances in the future, Singleton recommended the province develop legislation to protect "whistle-blowers" in the public sector.

The report also notes that the WCB is in a "good financial position" and has maintained an overall surplus for a number of years, which at December 31, 2004 was $70.5 million. However, the report says, "even a financially sound organization can experience governance and management issues."

'Whistle-blower' legislation promised

Labour Minister Nancy Allan responded to Singleton's report and recommendations shortly after their release, saying the government has already taken steps to implement some of the nine changes the auditor recommended specifically to the government.

She said the government has already taken steps to make the WCB board more accountable, including implementing staggered terms for board members.

Allan said she thought the people who dealt with Jacobsen's letter acted properly.

"We believe the previous minister who received the letter from Pat Jacobsen did the right thing," she noted, but said the government would create guidelines for ministers who receive similar concerns about arm's-length organizations in the future. The government will also introduce legislation to protect "whistle-blowers," she said.

When reached at home, Fox-Decent told CBC News he has not personally seen the report, but has read media reports about it. He said several times that he and his lawyer asked the auditor for an advance copy of the report, but they were denied.

In regards to the auditor's criticism of not having unrestricted access to WCB files, Fox-Decent said he wanted the process to be as open as possible, but some information – such as personnel records – was confidential.

The current chair of the Workers Compensation Board, Tom Farrell, says he stands behind his predecessor.

"What has taken place there is in the past," he said. 'To try and vilify Wally, I think, is the wrong direction to go in. He did a hell of a lot of good work here."