I can’t force anyone to do an on-camera interview, but I do have very high expectations from top level bureaucrats regarding accountability for the decisions they make. Especially when those decisions affect the lives of vulnerable children who cannot defend themselves. When someone disagrees with a top-level bureaucrat, bureaucrats prefer to offload accountability onto the courts where a judge decides if a bureaucrat was negligent, ignorant, malicious, or whatever. If the bureaucrat loses, the government pays – that would be you and me with our tax dollars.

The government likes the courts. They can expense the legal costs, and by the time the courts actually make a decision, the politician is long gone. It’s no surprise that governments prefer to draw the decision out and appeal it as long as they could. If possible, they’ll stretch the time-frame across several elections until the accountability factor is so completely lost that the Minister/Premier who was in charge has long since retired (from all the boards they sat on after they left public office) and is now raising sheep or llamas on a hobby farm. Meanwhile, the executive decision maker, who works in the bureaucracy and made these (questionable) choices in the first place, still has their job.

What is a public servant’s favourite line if you disagree with their decision? “Sue us.” They know, you know, and I know that suing is expensive. You have to be rich to sue, or you’re pretty much screwed. Often times the stakes are high, the person can’t sue, and the loss is staggering.

At year end 2009-2010, the Ontario government had 90 ongoing law suits in excess of $50 Million each. Fifty-nine of these were “not determined”, meaning that it could go either way. That’s $3 Billion that we, as a public, are on the hook for because high-level bureaucrats and elected politicians make sloppy decisions and then push accountability into the courts. (This doesn’t include legal costs – paying expensive lawyers with public money – the financial and emotional costs to the individual(s) affected,  and so on.) If and when the government loses (and it loses a lot) another ninety $50 Million+ law suits will replenish the courts.

To put this in perspective, $3 Billion can buy a lot of groceries, eliminate daycare subsidy wait lists, increase teachers’ salaries, improve the quality of nursing homes, add hospital beds, hire more nurses and other health care workers, provide therapy for children and adults with disabilities, and pay a whole lot of gas and hydro bills that have crippled Ontario families. $3 Billion can go a long way in reducing poverty and increasing the quality of life for every single person. It’s not how much money the government spends, but how it spends it. Wasting it on poor decision making skills and a complete lack of accountability at the top, is a tragedy no one can afford to pay. But we do.

To better understand why an abuse of power may have occurred by a public agency, I  approach the decision makers – the public servants – whose leadership decisions may have contributed to (or prevented) the abuse that the subject experienced.

These decision makers are not anonymous. They are real, live, individuals, and they wield whatever power the law has given them to make decisions for the area they manage.

“The bureaucracy” is not anonymous. It is not some ambiguous gray cloud that hovers over the public. The bureaucracy is comprised of intelligent, educated and caring individuals employed by rank. The bureaucracy is not unlike any other pyramid structure that exists in business, with a CEO at the helm. There is always a source. Somebody – a person – has made a decision that affects lives. Whether that decision was passive (they did nothing when they were obliged to do something), or they were actively involved, their leadership decisions set a precedent to their staff, which in turn affects how laws under their jurisdiction are implemented, translated and enforced.

At the head of every public agency is an Executive Director. In business, this position translates to CEO (in some cases, they’re even referred to as CEO in the legislation). When questionable decisions arise (such as acting contrary to law or  interpreting the law in a way that is grossly unfair to the individual affected), these CEOs may have political motivations for their decisions (the Minister could fire them or not renew their term, or they want something from the Minister like debt forgiveness so they could afford a pay increase the following year). Or, they may have other reasons, which could range anywhere from good intent or being bullied themselves, to being utterly incompetent and acting for personal profit (profit could mean anything that is self-motivated – from money to future career goals). In any case, there could be any number of reasons why an executive makes the decisions they do.

To give the public  a balanced perspective of a situation, and to understand what they can do to make their own lives and the lives of others better,  I feel it is imperative to approach these decision makers through on-camera interviews as a means to connect (or converse) with the public they serve. Since there is no precedent or requirement for accountability, I can only hope that integrity and honesty will motivate these individuals to discuss key areas of public concern, which stem from the agency they manage. Especially when these concerns involve damaged and broken lives. I can only hope.

When a public is skeptical about the inner workings of an agency,  it is important for them to hear and understand what these Executive Directors feel is their mandate, and how they translate the guidelines prescribed to them by law. It is through these conversations that the public can better understand and appreciate how their society works, what they can do to improve it, and what more or less they can do to empower decision makers working in the publics’ best interest.

Each of the three targeted executives spoke with me candidly on the phone. Two agreed to schedule on-camera interviews. Both requested I forward the questions ahead of the interview.

The intent of these interviews was not an “exposé”. Thus, I felt it was only fair to send these questions ahead – questions that were compiled from interviews with witnesses and experts – essentially, questions from the public. Sending questions ahead would give the executives time to consider a diligent and thoughtful response. It is at this juncture, immediately after I forwarded the questions, when they both bailed.

The third executive suggested having a meeting that wouldn’t be recorded “in any way” (including an audio only feed). As a high level executive whose decisions affect the public at large, her subversive approach was very disconcerting and lacked transparency. I was not interested.

Besides interviewing the Ministers, who may soon lose their jobs in the October 2011 election (and who wouldn’t grant me interviews, anyway) asking them to answer questions about their job, while they’re on their way out, would have been an exercise in futility. (The best time to ask a politician questions about their job is before they’re elected and comfortably seated for the next 4 years). Conversely, the Executive Director stands a much better chance of staying employed before, during and after an election, if they say nothing, keep their head down, and hide behind anonymity.

Note to the agency that calls themselves “half-public” on its website.
There’s no such thing as a half-public agency. Did someone make that up because they only wanted the agency to be half-accountable? If there’s a law that mandates the agency you govern to exist, your agency is an “all public” agency. This agency also reports to the Minister, who’s accountable to the public. Further, the public founded this agency with tax dollars and then legislated into law how it would generate cash for its continued existence – not to mention the $3.1 Million dollars the public gave this agency to establish it, and then expensed these millions (all of it) as bad debt…

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  1. Thank you for taking the initiative in making this documentary. As well, thank you for enlightening myself and the public about how our government runs in a very broken way. Best of luck with making this documentary that is very much needed to inspire us, the public, to speak out about injustices.

  2. Reality Check says:

    The note to agency is in regards to the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers. They call themselves ‘half public’ on their website to mask their accountability with the public. The 3.1 million dollars was a loan from the Royal Bank secured through the Ministry of Social Services, which dates back to 1999. In 2006-2007, the Royal Bank purged the loan and the Liberals expensed it by rolling it up into bad debt expense.

    In 1998, when the PC government created the college and passed the legislation, Glenda McDonald, the current Registrar & CEO of the college, made a presentation to the standing committee on social development advocating for mandatory registration of social workers. She completely agreed with the legislation, siding with the PC party that registration should be mandatory. A position she reneged upon when she was handed the authority to enforce it.

    Was Glenda’s position on the issues totally opportunistic as a means to secure gainful employment with a sweet bureaucratic pension? Or maybe her previous employment with the hospital was starting to look dismal? She might have perceived this position as a vertical move upwards. I mean, how high can you climb as a social worker? How would Glenda explain her flippant behavior? I invite her to respond to my post. Her words to the committee are on record, yet her actions have been the opposite. Perhaps nobody has ever done a performance review on Glenda? (Do such things even exist for gov’t level CEO’s? Maybe if they did, it might warrant the firing of all CAS’ CEO’s, right alongside with Glenda… now there’s a thought…) There’s a good possibility that Glenda doesn’t have the competence to perform her mandated duty in such a high level bureaucratic roll. Maybe she never did, but nobody knew it. She should probably have spent some time reporting into someone more competent before she got promoted to Registrar. Now she’s an example to the staff who report into her. What a mess. We can thank the PC’s for that.

    Although all 3 parties were on board with the legislation, which was in the making for over 15 years, and covered the ruling span of every single party, it was the PC’s that finally brought it in. The Liberals & the NDP mocked the PC party for using the college as an election ploy (even though they agreed with the legislation and would’ve acted the same way if they were given the chance), which it was, especially after the PC’s had “decimated” the practice of social work by firing workers from hospitals & schools. They did it for votes. Social policy and protecting the vulnerable isn’t even part of the PC party’s platform.

    Partisan politics- animosity between the party brands – created a division where the true consequences were felt when the Liberals came into power. Glenda did a radical turn-around regarding her opinion of mandatory registration to conform with how the Liberals felt on the issue. It’s impossible to say where she truly stands because she was cozy with the PC party when she was first elected to the position and then flipped to represent the opinion of the Liberals. For a college that touts ethics at the foundation, maybe the Registrar needs to take a lesson on ethics, herself? Should a bureaucrat pander to partisan politics (to ensure they have a secure job and the highest protected authority in their field) or enforce the law and advocate for the integrity of the population they represent and the public they protect?

    Today, the College has failed to use its authority to enforce the legislation and protect the public. It’s a useless body with some fortunate legislation that allows it to collect money from the public. Perhaps if the loan wasn’t written off and the CEO made accountable for the college’s debt, Glenda would’ve been motivated to enforce it. Unfortunately, the legislation does not cap the length of time that the Registrar can remain in power. (I wonder why the PC’s did that?) As a consequence, Glenda has secured the job for over a decade, with little to no accountability. Is it any wonder that over 90% of the complaints to the college are dismissed by a supervisor who has held the seat as long as Glenda?

    Some people, including some very competent and highly educated social workers, don’t see the need for registration with the College. If the college does not bring a sense of integrity to the field of social work, as it has failed to do, then the indifference is warranted. The consequences, however, is that anybody can perform the roll of a social worker and just call themselves by a different title. This is what’s happened with the Children’s Aid.

    Workers, who perform the roll of a social worker, call themselves by a different title, but are neither educated nor qualified to perform the work that they do with vulnerable families and children. A gross lack of professionalism and the abuse of power ensues, where workers turn a blind eye when children are abused, good foster parents are punished, abusive foster and group homes are encouraged, and birth parents are bullied and prosecuted to death in the courts by workers who lie and act unethically while protected by law from accountability. It’s a mess and a disgrace to the field of social work. Social workers are getting a bad rep as a result. A qualified and educated social worker should never want to be associated with this group of people, but they are because of how the field of social work has evolved under Glenda’s rule of incompetence.

    Imagine going to the dentist and finding out the person who’s performing a root canal on you never studied dentistry? Or having surgery in the hospital and learning the surgeon never studied medicine? Then, after suffering enormous damage to your physical well-being by exposing yourself (out of necessity) to an unlicensed practice, not having anywhere to complain? Social workers employed by the Children’s Aid have the power to devastate families and adversely affect childrens’ lives forever. You would hope that the person making these powerful decisions has an education in social work, right? (Maybe people exercising this authority need their moral compass aligned and an education in ethics as well.) In fact, you would even hope that the supervisors, managers and directors at the Children’s Aid have an education in social work. I mean, they’re the ones ultimately making these life-altering decisions on behalf of vulnerable individuals. Well they don’t.

    Many exec directors of the CAS’ have an MBA and very few supervisors actually have an education in social work. I’d like to know how the public feels about having executives with employment experience rooted in banks and financial institutions making unqualified social work decisions on behalf of the vulnerable lives in our society? In fact, everybody’s life is vulnerable if the person you are dealing with has more power than you, which the CAS does. So if you have kids and you think you’re exempt from having your life destroyed by an unqualified, incompetent, inexperienced and uneducated social worker, or an exec with training from a financial institution, think again.

    Petty partisan politics, selfish ambition and money has corrupted the field of social work. All parties are at fault. The PC’s for undermining the importance of social work when they wiped them out under Mike Harris. (Don’t confuse the absence of Mike Harris with a different ideology. Practically the entire old crew is running for re-election, including Hudak.) The NDP is at fault for not criticizing and challenging the actions of the college in parliament by demonstrating how the college’s behavior has further condemned poverty in this province. (Was this a petty partisan decision? Or just ignorance? Neither excuse bodes well.) And the Liberals for condoning the actions of unqualified workers at CAS by turning a blind eye, when they had the authority through a majority gov’t to investigate.

    Qualified social workers need to band together and fix this disaster, which has critically compromised the value of social work and social service work in Ontario.