Just as the Auditor General of Ontario criticized Doug Ford’s government for failing to protect people from COVID-19, members of her own staff were condemning Bonnie Lysyk for allegedly endangering them in the midst of a pandemic.
Lysyk told The Star she wanted to maintain the “status quo” when her listeners started working remotely at the end of March, joining many of their public sector and business counterparts to stay at home.
But within weeks, she began to fuss for a quick return to staff work – first proposing a May target, then June, and finally imposing a mid-July deadline over objections from many members of the staff. his office, the Star learned.
The auditor’s office initially granted a limited number of medical and family exemptions, but many of these accommodations were canceled in August and September, forcing these staff to return to work despite fears that they (or family members) could be in danger, according to two sources. with knowledge of the internal workings of the office.
Despite clear messages from Ontario’s public health authorities – which Lysyk publicly criticized in a report last week – that people should work remotely if possible, a standoff has developed with many members of the staff on his desire for a quick return to the office.
The Auditor General is an independent and essentially untouchable agent of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, appointed for 10 years as the watchdog of public spending. Last week, she released a 230-page report criticizing the policies and procedures of the Progressive Conservative government during the pandemic. The report sparked strong protests from the Prime Minister over its timing, as it took a long time – 2,744 hours of government staff time, by his own estimate, to answer his flood of questions – at one point where the public service is exhausted dealing with COVID-19.
Confidential sources spoke to the Star on condition that their identities were not revealed. They expressed fear of retaliation from a listener who they say does not appreciate the challenge and resists scrutiny from outside media.
Now, Lysyk’s management style once again raises concerns about his judgment and credibility. Given its responsibility to hold elected governments to account, one question remains unanswered:
Who is watching the watchdog?
What if a listener only answers the questions they want to answer and avoids the ones they don’t like? This is how she dodged the basic questions for this column – for example, the total number of her employees; whether intrusive documentation was required for medical and family leave; his reasons for resisting all regular staff working from home in the middle of summer; when, why and how many homework exemptions (for medical or family reasons) were canceled in August and September; and details on the new requirements for recording hours worked remotely.
“Hello Martin, I can appreciate that you are doing your job, however, since your last set of questions are about human resources and staffing which we cannot discuss publicly, our office will not respond to others. questions on this issue, ”she wrote in an email. “Our office has followed public health operational guidelines from day one and has not had any positive cases of COVID-19 due to the diligence of our staff.
No more questions – an answer the auditor would never tolerate from others when she is asking the questions of the payroll employees.
Faced with the prospect of unrest from her own troops, the Auditor General withdrew from her desire to return to work sooner – agreeing to let personnel auditors work from home early in the summer, as good. number of officials they audit. But as many workplaces advertised remote operations for the foreseeable future – workers often being urged not to return until next year – Lysyk continued to pressure staff to return to their posts as soon as possible as the summer wore on.
In response to staff concerns, the auditor’s office initially granted a number of medical and family exemptions and accommodations. But sources say intrusive questions have been raised, for example asking if family chores could not be handed over to spouses or grandparents who could shoulder the burden of expected mothers at work.
Medical exemptions have been allowed on a case-by-case basis, they say, with people citing immunocompromised family members having to produce full documentation. But many of those medical exemptions were canceled in August, with family exemptions largely being rolled back in September, the sources said.
Some home-based staff have felt intimidated by guidelines that they must meet specific hours, rather than making up for lost time in the evenings. If time was wasted due to family responsibilities, according to sources, employees were to code this time as vacation; if staff were inactive while waiting for work assignments, they should code that time as no work available.
“She was worried that people couldn’t really do their work from home,” a source said. The order from above “implied that if you had to take breaks from your family responsibilities in the middle of the day, you had to take it as a vacation… It was crazy – I would just make sure to catch up in the evening. “
The Auditor General’s desire to keep the office running at full capacity – on site and as soon as possible – has been loud and clear. The obsession with getting everyone back to the office – despite the fact that most employees were familiar and equipped with information technology – took its toll on employees.
“She was very proud of it. She thought it made us better public servants than anyone in Ontario – more diligent and responsible, ”said another source. “It was a very stressful time, it created a lot of anxiety that lasted for weeks…. It was tense, there was no real dialogue.
In a previous email, Lysyk described the careful cleaning procedures and described the staff consultations which included a “virtual town office” to answer questions. But she declined to answer the Star’s questions about the number of medical exemptions assessed, refused to confirm the total staffing (the auditor’s website says it has “about 140 employees”), and didn’t did not say whether staff are unionized (sources say this is not the case).
Lysyk, however, confirmed that in mid-October – with public health authorities citing rising infection rates – she told “almost all staff to return to work from home.”
And the work they did. Amidst overworked staff and looming deadlines – both in the auditor’s office and in the public service – Lysyk has amassed more work in tackling the complex issue of how government and health authorities government were managing the pandemic.
Released last week, his report largely fell flat as a one-day wonder – hailed by outside epidemiologists who only find fault with government public health experts, but otherwise ignored by many who understand Lysyk’s superficial mastery of governance and obsession with process. The report confused the government’s “command tables”, transposed provincial scenarios, misinterpreted the role of the medical officer of health, confused the numbers and missed the point of a pandemic that defies preconceptions and the optics of optimization Resource.
Over the years, Lysyk appears to have created a hostile work environment, not only on her doorstep, but across much of the public service, where she tolerates no dissent. The auditor’s personality clashes with non-partisan officials and outside experts are now legendary, including her confrontations with the province’s former financial controller Cindy Veinot.
Lysyk resorted to “personal attacks, derogatory comments … and threats” at a 2016 meeting, Veinot told a legislative committee. “What I saw during this meeting and subsequently documented the next day was only an introduction to what I was going to see during the two years I worked for the (public service of the Ontario .. “
Then like now, Lysyk didn’t comment, “You know, I’d rather not do it,” she told Robert Benzie of The Star.
In an age when many white-collar workplaces demonstrate empathy, flexibility and adaptability where possible – especially if the work can be accomplished remotely and efficiently – it seems odd that an office focused on value for money devalues its own employees. And so the questions persist:
Who audits the Auditor General? Who holds the most powerful accountant in the province responsible?