Manitoba’s Ombudsman said in a report today the NDP skirted the neutrality of civil servants in an April 2012 event to condemn federal changes to immigration.
In a release, Acting Ombudsman Mel Holley said he concluded that there was no personal or administrative misconduct that would amount to partisan action by the civil service, but the distribution of an email invitation gave rise to the perception of partisanship.
"This complaint brought the matter of civil service neutrality to the forefront," Holley said. "It also touched upon the relationship between elected officials and civil servants."
The email in question was sent by Ben Rempel, assistant deputy minister of immigration, to local immigration workers to attend the legislative building April 19, 2012 to listen to a debate on the immigration changes and the province’s position on those changes.
The email read:
Tomorrow, Thursday, April 19, 2012, Honourable Christine Melnick, minister of immigration and multiculturalism, will table a resolution that the legislative assembly of Manitoba call on the Government of Canada to immediately reverse its decision to cancel the settlement annex of the Canada-Manitoba Immigration Agreement with the provincial government in order to maintain the successful Manitoba immigration model. The Manitoba government resolution is attached.
We would like to invite you to be at the Manitoba Legislative Building, 450 Broadway, at 2:00 p.m., tomorrow, Thursday, April 19, 2012, to witness this very important event.
assistant deputy minister
Manitoba Immigration and Multiculturalism
At the time the Opposition Progressive Conservatives said the memo was evidence the NDP used a civil servant to stage a political event.
Holley said the email raised a matter of public importance.
"Ensuring that civil servants remain neutral in carrying out their responsibilities is of great importance for the effective operation of government," he said. "Any real or perceived erosion of this impartiality can undermine public confidence in the administrative actions and advice of civil servants."
Holley said his office asked government to consider whether there might be any appropriate role for elected officials in working with civil servants to address similar situations where administrative actions could give rise to the perception of partisanship.
He said in response, the government said that while the primary responsibility to maintain political neutrality rests with civil servants, there is a role for elected officials and political staff to be mindful of the neutrality required of civil servants.
Holley said the clerk of Executive Council and the Civil Service Commissioner have agreed to work together to develop a set of guidelines for consideration by elected officials and political staff to assist them when developing directions or instructions to civil servants that avoid the potential for situations where administrative actions could result in the perception of partisanship.
The Civil Service Commission has also agreed to create an implementation plan in consultation with each department to ensure that all civil service employees attend a "Working in Government: Values and Ethics in the Manitoba Civil Service" workshop. This workshop complements information in the Manitoba government's Values and Ethics Guide and an online employee orientation.
To read the Ombudsman’s full report, go to http://www.ombudsman.mb.ca.