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Manitoba Hydro watchdogs sleep as the Whistleblower Act degenerates into farce

Manitoba Hydro has launched a campaign of intimidation to undermine the official investigation of a whistleblower's complaint of gross mismanagement.

Employees have been told that they will be fired for the slightest contact with the whistleblower no matter how personal and non-work related it may be. One Christmas card and there goes your pension. Phone and computer records have been searched to send a message---the all-seeing eye of Big Brother is watching everything you do.

And CEO Bob Brennan has sent letters to news media referring to the whistleblower as "a disgruntled consultant" in a further assault on her character and her credibility.

So much for the innocent public face of Hydro with which Brennan proclaimed that he welcomed the investigation and would cooperate fully.

The threats come as the Auditor General was informed that she will have to speak with current Hydro employees to confirm details of Hydro's operations now that Hydro has managed to stifle any examination of the complaints for more than a year.

Not that it matters to Auditor Carol Bellringer.

Three weeks after being ordered to do a speeded-up special audit into the Hydro complaint, she has done exactly doodly-squat. Zippo. She hasn't looked at a single page of information. Her performance can be summed up in three words---told ya so.

This, the first test of the government's vaunted The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act, is degenerating into farce.

* The Hydro whistleblower's complaint officially reached Bellringer's desk 7 l/2 months ago. Before that it sat on the Ombudsman's desk for three months. And Brennan has been aware of the details for 14 months.

Bellringer told the CBC, as an excuse for her blatant inaction, that the act governing her office doesn't set time limits for investigations.

She can take as long as she wants.

And apparently she's doing her level best to stall the investigation to benefit her former colleague on the board of Manitoba Hydro, Bob Brennan.

* Brennan, a graduate of the Mussolini School of Management, bragged to the CBC Tuesday that he hasn't received a single written complaint from anyone alleging intimidation. So, let's see... the intimidation campaign is so successful nobody dares to complain of being intimidated, and that 'proves' there was no intimidation in the first place. Of course, Il Duce.

* This isn't just a test of the Whistleblower Protection Act. It's a test of unelected Premier Greg Selinger. How will he take to respond to this open and direct challenge to the authority of the Legislature?

Brennan has done everything he can to breach the Act. He did his best to identify the whistleblower without actually naming her, despite the assurance of confidentiality in the Act.

He revealed the complainant was a woman; he revealed her job with Hydro, how long she worked there and the time she was fired.

And in a breach of the Privacy Act, he discussed how much she was paid.

He's begun to attack her character in private letters to reporters, and Hydro is threatening to fire anyone who calls her a friend. Even the Constitutional right to freedom of association must bow to Brennan's megalomania.

* The provincial Ombudsman must immediately launch an investigation into Hydro's heavy-handed threats. She can't wait for the intimidation to succeed. She is entrusted with enforcing the Whistleblower Protection Act, and a failure to take a stand now makes a laughing stock of the Protection from Reprisal provisions in the law.

* Roseann Wowchuk, the Minister in charge of Manitoba Hydro and Crown Corporations accountability, must remove Bob Brennan from any role in responding to the whistleblower's complaint. He has demonstrated he is less interested in cooperating with the government watchdogs than in counter-attacking his accuser. This, in itself, is a blatant breach of the spirit, if not the law, of the Act.

* And Selinger must publicly defend the Whistleblower Act. He must denounce Hydro's campaign to intimidate potential witnesses. He must offer the protection of the Premier's office to anyone with vital information about Hydro's operations and possible mismanagement.

And, above all, he must replace Bellringer, who not only reeks of conflict of interest but has proven herself incompetent in handling the public's interest under the Act.

* And will someone poke the official Opposition with a stick to see if you can detect any signs of life?

Opposition "leader" Hugh McFadyen contorted himself into obscene positions to pat himself on the back after the recent policy convention. He couldn't stop blathering what a fierce campaigner he had become.

Yet here's an issue involving Manitoba's largest company possibly losing a billion dollars amid threats of power brownouts and the response from the Conservatives has been a few squeaks at a committee meeting followed by a relapse into dumb silence.

Next: When Manitoba Hydro explained how it could go broke (with pictures).

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