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Toxic workplace in office of indigenous minister, say ex-employees

“She cannot stand Jody [Wilson-Raybould]. She saw Jody as a threat,” said a former staff member.

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Former employees of Crown-Indigenous Minister Carolyn Bennett have revealed details about what they called a “toxic” work environment.

At least seven former Bennett staffers, who worked for the minister between 2016 and 2020, spoke to the CBC which withheld their names. They claimed a workplace complaint was brought to the minister, another to Chief of Staff Sara Welch, and then to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Bennett — ultimately, the buck stops there — didn’t want to hear about it,” said one Bennett staffer.

“The office was very toxic,” said a staffer.

“That … affected the ability of the office to really move things. It could be toxic and good people don’t stay for toxic.”

Bennett, an Idle No More Activist in 2012 and 2013, became Indigenous Affairs minister in November 2015, then Crown-Indigenous Relations minister in August 2017.

A staffer said Bennett “cared deep down about indigenous people” and wanted to bring change, but “she is very much convinced what the solution is and she has the right way of doing things and looks down on anyone that doesn’t see it her way.”

Former staffers say the minister wants to turn the former U.S. embassy into an indigenous embassy. Despite having “pet issues,” she empowered some of her staff to deal with files as they saw fit. Others felt left out in a “clannish,” dysfunctional, and chaotic workplace where Bennett apparently had her favourites.

One indigenous staffer was reportedly told by policy adviser Emmaline English her people should “get over” and “move on” from the wrongs of the past. When the indigenous staffer discussed a murdered relative at an internal meeting on the topic, English reportedly said her comments were “not warranted.”

Staffers painted a picture of an “unconscious bias” in Bennett and her trusted circle that sometimes excluded input from indigenous staffers. Bennett was told by one of them that she should wait until after the new head of the Assembly of First Nations was chosen before she appeared on the Vancouver Convention Centre floor where he was chosen. She did anyway and even talked with Alberta chiefs that morning. As a result, three of the four candidates for AFN Chief accused her of meddling in the process.

On the other hand, Bennett reportedly deferred so much to AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde when it came to making appointments and other decisions, staff members raised concerns. Then those doing so were reportedly cut out of files.

“If you were a favourite of the minister, your policy files got pushed ahead to the front of the line and if you weren’t, they were just kind of sidetracked,” said a former staffer.

The federal government has challenged a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order to compensate First Nations children taken into the child welfare system. Cindy Blackstock, head of the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society, has been a persistent critic of the federal stance. Several staffers said Bennett often complained about her and said Blackstock was motivated by “her own ego.”

Bennett also complained about former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, staffers said.

“To me, it seemed there was a competition, that [Bennett] had to be better,” said a former staff member.

“She cannot stand Jody. She saw Jody as a threat,” said another.

Wilson-Raybould conceived of a framework to incorporate Indigenous Rights into other aspects of federal law. Apparently, she clashed with Bennett in 2018 on how to move it forward. The department messed up consultations on the framework, leading to its rejection by First Nations leaders and the abandonment of the idea.

In an e-mailed statement to the CBC, Bennett claimed she always “focused on creating an inclusive environment.” She insisted she had the “utmost” respect for Blackstock and Wilson-Raybould, saying, “It has been an honour to work with them.”

She also said she dealt with human resources issues in her office “expeditiously” and fired a staffer on one occasion.

The PMO would not comment on the record regarding the allegations, nor did English.

Lee Harding is a Western Standard correspondent based in Saskatchewan.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Fred Monninots

    July 24, 2021 at 8:43 pm

    What a harridan!

  2. Claudette Leece

    July 24, 2021 at 3:38 am

    Trudeau seems to have a knack for ball busting women, to pick for his cabinet. There perfect for Trudeau’s cabinet,, because Trudeau doesn’t listen to anyone either. Great job you feminist

  3. luigi

    July 23, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    Re: Left coast

    I can agree with you 100%! The Canadian political system needs to severe cleaning out. From east coast all across to the west coast. Those politicians ( having difficulty using that term) look out for themselves and don’t give a rats ass about their constituents.

  4. Left Coast

    July 23, 2021 at 9:14 am

    Another Minister of Incompetence . . . so common in the Trudope Gender & Diversity Govt.

    In the world of Lieberal Party of Canada, Incompetence always rises to the top . . . I suspect there is not One Competent Minister in the Cabinet today.

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News

Hockey arena backs down on banning unvaccinated kids

Within hours of the Western Standard posting the exclusive story, Oaten was contacted by the SLSFSC and advised of an update to their policy.

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Public pressure has brought minor hockey out of the penalty box in Cochrane.

Following an exclusive story by the Western Standard on Saturday, along with mounting pressure from the community, a Cochrane sports facility has revamped its vaccine passport policy.  

The Cochrane Minor Hockey Association (CMHA) and Hockey Alberta were not mandating a vaccine passport system, but Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre (SLSFSC) announced it would be requiring proof of vaccine status for anyone 12 and up.

Within hours of the story being posted, CMHS President Cory Oaten was contacted by the SLSFSC and advised of an update to their policy with this statement: “Youth between the ages of 12 (vaccine eligible) to 18 years of age are exempt from the REP vaccination requirement to enter the facility for the purpose of participating in a youth organized sport organization. Examples include (but not limited to) Cochrane Minor Hockey, Ringette, Cochrane Minor Soccer, Lacrosse, Cochrane Figure Skating Club, Comets, Junior Lifeguard Club, etc.”

Although youth may access the facility without being vaccinated, all adult spectators, coaches, volunteers and organizers of any youth activity “must show proof of vaccination, proof of a negative test, or medical exemption to gain entry to SLSFSC premises.”

“Although this helps our kids get on the ice in Cochrane, it’s still an issue at lots of other facilities, especially in larger facilities in Calgary and Airdrie,” Oaten said.

Oaten, who works in the insurance industry, points out the “huge liability issue” this poses to his and other sports organizations.

“Originally, Spray Lakes pushed us to collect this medical documentation from our members,” he said.

The CMHA board consists of 18 volunteer members.

“They can’t put those expectations on a board of volunteers. It’s a big legal issue for us,” Oaten said, adding he and his board refuse to take responsibility for requiring proof of vaccine or the collection of their members’ private medical information.

Oaten was informed the SLSFSC will now have its own security checkpoints set up in the facility and will take responsibility for checking the vaccine status of anyone 18-plus entering the building.

Oaten anticipates families will still pull their kids from hockey and other sports programs as those who remain unvaccinated will not be permitted in the facility to accompany their child.

Hockey Alberta stated on their Facebook page they are working with the Alberta government on how last Wednesday’s announcement will affect hockey for Alberta players. Oaten has asked his members to hold off on making a decision to pull their child from the program until Hockey Alberta comes forward with their updated season plan.

The Western Standard reached out to the SLSFSC for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

Risdon is a reporter for the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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News

Nearly $400 million in commemorative holiday events planned for fed employees only

The Department of Canadian Heritage promises “large-scale commemoration events” for a September 30 holiday for federally regulated employees only.

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It’ll cost hundreds of millions of dollars with federally regulated employees getting ready to party like it’s 2021, all on the public teat.

The Department of Canadian Heritage promises “large-scale commemoration events” for a September 30 holiday for federally regulated employees only.

Blacklock’s Reporter says the holiday will cost $388.9 million, by official estimate.

“The department will collaborate with national organizations for large-scale commemorative events on September 30,” staff wrote in a briefing note. It is the first federal observance of its kind.

The Senate on June 3 passed Bill C-5 An Act To Amend The Bills Of Exchange Act that designates September 30 as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The paid holiday applies only to federal employees including the RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces, and federally-regulated private sector workers at job sites like airports, banks, grain mills, marine shippers, radio stations and railways.

“This new annual statutory holiday on September 30 will ensure public commemoration of the tragic history and legacy of Residential Schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process,” said the briefing note National Day For Truth And Reconciliation. Costs of planned events were estimated at $2.7 million.

Parliament passed the holiday bill without a dissenting vote though senators in final debate questioned its usefulness. “What could long-term, dedicated and stable funding mean for food security, for closing the infrastructure gap which is huge, for finally ending boiled water advisories, for dealing with acute housing shortfalls in Indigenous communities?” asked Senator Dennis Patterson (Nunavut).

“It is hard for me to hear about the hundreds of millions of dollars that will go to provide federal employees a paid day off when I think about how an ongoing commitment of what we have heard today would be $388.9 million per annum for this holiday,” said Patterson.

“It would be an insult to my family members, to my friends and to the memories of those survivors I have lost along the way if this day were to become yet another paid day at the cottage for federal workers,” said Patterson. “It needs to truly be a day of remembrance and learning.”

The Treasury Board said direct costs were $165.9 million in the federal public service. “Most of that is in lost productivity,” Stephen Diotte, executive director of human resources, told the Senate June 3.

“The balance of it is payments required for employees in 24/7 work environments like corrections or Canada Border Services or ships’ crews and officers in the Department of National Defence and Department of Fisheries,” said Diotte.

The $165.9 million figure did not include holiday pay or overtime for Crown corporation employees. “I don’t have those figures,” said Diotte.

The labour department said airlines, marine shippers and other federally-regulated private sector companies would pay another $223 million annually.

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News

City of Edmonton mandates COVID jabs

The e-mail did not contain what disciplinary actions the city would take against staff who don’t get jabbed.

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City of Edmonton employees have less than a month to get jabbed against COVID-19, officials said in a new mandatory vaccine policy announced Monday.

City Manager Andre Corbould said in an e-mail to all staff they will have to be vaccinated by November 15.

“Last week, I shared the results from the Employee COVID-19 Vaccination Disclosure Policy (A1700) with you. The Executive Leadership Team (ELT) used this information to determine if additional steps were necessary to protect you, keep our facilities safe and operational, and stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Corbould.

“According to the disclosure results, 72% of employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In the context of the fourth wave in Alberta and rising cases in our own employees, that level is not high enough to give us confidence that we are minimizing the hazard of COVID-19 in the workplace to the greatest extent possible.

“As a result, the City of Edmonton is introducing a COVID-19 vaccination policy for all City of Edmonton employees effective today, September 20, 2021. All employees will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (two weeks after receiving the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine) by Nov. 15, 2021.”

Courbould said he realizes the decision is bound to set off a storm of controversy.

“While I recognize this decision may be difficult for some, I expect everyone to behave respectfully to one another as this decision is implemented. ELT made this decision, not your supervisor. We will not tolerate disrespectful or abusive behaviour or communications,” he wrote.

“This is a significant step for our organization, and an essential safety measure for keeping our workplaces safe.”

The e-mail did not contain what disciplinary actions the city would take against staff who don’t get jabbed.

Earlier this month, the City of Calgary also instituted a mandatory vaccination requirement.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter.com/nobby7694

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