Right in the centre - Epidemic of secrecy


Ken Waddell

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In the decades long crawl to make health care accessible and still stay within 40 per cent of  the province’s budget, Manitoba governments have actually done a very poor job of containing costs. The current Pallister government is finding that to hold the line on costs or to actually reduce costs is a pretty frustrating exercise. 

We have all heard about health care staff cuts at the management level. There have been a number of cuts but in the accepted modern pattern of secrecy, nobody knows who they are. The regional health authorities hide behind the confidentiality wall and tell us that nobody can be identified as having their jobs cut. I call BS on that. The health care system is publicly funded by tax dollars. Who gets paid, who does what and which jobs are cut, or expanded, or created should all be part of the public information domain. If we are paying the price, then we need to know where the money is going. We don’t and apparently we won’t.

Facing that kind of communication stonewalling, the public can readily be excused for being skeptical about changes in health care. If we know what jobs were in existence and how they are supposed to work, we might be able to express an opinion on what’s going on. The way it is, we have no clue.

The RHAs are closed up tighter than Fort Knox. This newspaper asked the RHA for a simple breakdown of male and female workers and we were turned down. We had to file a Freedom of Information application to find out and the information was eventually released. What on earth can be the secret about the number of male and female workers? All our editor wanted to do was to see how male/female ratios looked and it was in relation to an article about traditional men and women job roles. Apparently that’s top secret information. We did get a  breakdown of how many positions there are in various categories, but the job titles aren’t really very enlightening in many cases.
On a side note, the one job title that really made me laugh is the Smoking Cessation Specialist. That person apparently doesn’t help patients to learn how to quit smoking, they are to help staff quit smoking. All I can say is if someone in the health care field is too dumb to quit smoking, maybe they don’t want or need help. That we have to waste money on paying someone to convince anybody to quit smoking is ridiculous.

The government and the RHAs have had many studies done over the years but they usually refuse to release them. That is simply wrong. We paid for them but we don’t get to read them? If there has been a publicly funded report, we deserve to see it. If the reports contains condemning evidence, we have the right to know that. If the reports contain evidence of a job well done, then we deserve to know that too. The modern day levels of secrecy in governments, at all levels, will be the death of democracy.

Of late, the current Manitoba government seems to be scrambling every day to contain a new information crisis. These lapses in judgement are very troubling. A new announcement comes out, followed by some howling by the public and the unions. After a few days, somebody is trotted out to say, “Well that isn’t what we meant”. Or, “That isn’t what we said”. Or, “That was a poorly worded letter.” Come on folks, you guys and gals have been politicians or civil servants for many years. Doesn’t anybody know how to proof read or analyze the effect of a communications piece?

Many years ago, I read, in fact studied, a book on organizations. It contained some very clear advice. It said that a company should fire their communications staff. Communications was the managers’ job. If the managers couldn’t communicate, then you should fire them too. If people in authority can’t speak, won’t speak or aren’t allowed to speak, then we have a major problem. This newspaper has experienced many instances where we have asked very simple, straightforward questions and we have been stonewalled. We get referred to communications staff who take days or even weeks to get back to us. We can ask when the highway ditches will be mowed and we have to wait days to get an answer from a communications specialist.

Come on governments, at all levels. It is our money you are earning, our money you are spending or hopefully saving. Speak out already. What are you doing, why are you doing it and when will you do it. What’s so complicated? If governments want to get voters, taxpayers and the news media to understand what is going on it would help if ministers, department heads or even front-line workers could actually say something of substance.

I, for one, am completely fed up with the secrecy, the botched communication and the stonewalling at all levels of government. We have an epidemic of secrecy at all levels of government in this country.