MPs question public works adviser's dismissal

Opposition MPs want to know why the federal Conservative government fired a public works special adviser who went on to win a precedent-setting award for damages.

Opposition MPs want to know why the federal Conservative government fired a public works special adviser who went on to win a precedent-setting award for damages.

Douglas Tipple, a real estate expert, brought wrongful dismissal charges against the federal government. CBC)
Douglas Tipple, a real estate expert hired in 2005 under the Liberal government's attempt to cut billions from the federal budget, was unceremoniously fired at the end of August 2006 after erroneously becoming the subject of a media-led scandal.

Instead of defending him, Public Works let him suffer in silence under the media storm and then said they were laying him off with fellow special adviser David Rotor.

A public service labour board adjudicator ruled, in a decision released Tuesday, that Tipple deserved $1.35 million and counting for the psychological damage, loss in reputation and wages. Rotor, who was also a victim of similar treatment, is expected to reach a similar settlement.

"I want to know why these two men were hung out to dry, why were their reputations destroyed, and why are taxpayers paying millions of dollars to cover up for the mishandling of this file by Michael Fortier and his colleagues," said NDP MP Charlie Angus, referring to the former minister for public works.

Although the adjudicator, Dan Quigley, laid much of the blame on deputy minister I. David Marshall for casting Rotor and Tipple adrift in a callous manner, he noted in his decision that Marshall had a meeting with the minister during which his thoughts "crystallized" on the need for their dismissal.

Marshall is traveling in Europe and unavailable for comment, but another former public works minister, Liberal MP Scott Brison, knew Marshall well and finds it shocking that Marshall would have instigated their dismissal.

"David Marshall was extremely dedicated to The Way Forward reform package and to ultimately help the Canadian taxpayers save billions of dollars," Brison told the CBC on Wednesday from Halifax. "These two gentlemen were committed to the same program and they were all part of the same team.

"I think there's a larger agenda at work here."

Quigley, upon hearing the testimony from Marshall, also found it shocking that he could fire two men who were implementing his program and about whom he gave glowing reviews. The adjudicator called Marshall's treatment of Tipple "disingenuous" and "callous."

"In all my dealings with Mr. Marshall he was fair and decent, hard-working and earnest, and focused on getting the best value for Canadian taxpayers," Brison said. For Marshall to do what he did, "I believe there was significant political pressure from either the minister's office, or perhaps even the Prime Minister's Office, to get rid of these two men."

Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Harper, says the decision was made by Public Works and Government Services Canada.

"It was the Department of PWGSC who hired these individuals," he wrote in an email. "It was then PWGSC Deputy Minister David Marshall's decision to end their term.

"This had nothing to do with the Prime Minister's Office."

Reviewing decision

A Public Works Department spokesman said department officials "will review the Public Service Labour Relations Board's decision and determine its options. It would be inappropriate to make any further comment on these legal proceedings."

Angus, the NDP public works critic, doesn't believe the government has many options, especially when the adjudicator had to make five extra disclosure orders —what he called "obstruction" — when the government continuously failed to deliver information for the case that was drawn out over almost four years.  

"When you read the decision, it's a staggering indictment of this government," Angus said in an interview in Ottawa. "I mean, what you're seeing is a government that allowed the reputation of two men, who suddenly became problematic, to be trashed … to see obstruction of justice.

"You know, it certainly would send a chill down the spines of anybody who has to deal with this government on any level."