a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ways to shut people up: Firing isn’t one of them

If it hasn’t happened already, somebody in the Prime Minister’s Office must be asking ``why did we fire Pat Stogran?’’

Stogran will be remembered as the veterans’ ombudsman who had the audacity to speak up early and often on behalf of Canada’s war veterans – so much so that the government fired him. His last day on the job is Wednesday and his successor takes over on Thursday, Remembrance Day.

How is that for getting the bum’s rush out the door?

Stogran’s difficulties with his employer are reminiscent of the late Dr. Morton Shulman’s tenure as chief Ontario coroner in the 1960s. The government of Ontario Premier John Robarts thought it was making a routine patronage appointment. But Shulman took the job seriously.

So after six years, the Robarts government fired Shulman for being a pain in the ass. But Shulman became an even bigger pain in the ass after he was fired. It prompted Robarts to remark his biggest mistake was hiring Shulman. His second biggest was firing Shulman.

The papers are full of stories about veterans and how they are being shortchanged and shafted by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Even the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Jean Pierre Blackburn, has conceded his own department has been heartless.

Disabled vets are protesting on Parliament Hill. Strogran says he is prepared to launch a class action law suit on behalf of veterans everywhere.

As they say in the PMO, the optics of Pat Stogran’s appointment and firing really suck. You wouldn’t want to be the person who recommended Stogran to the Prime Minister’s appointment office.

The Harper government has a history of firing cabinet appointees who have turned out not to be quite the team players they had in mind. It was only a matter of time when one of them would refuse to go quietly.

In contrast, the government of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty came close to firing the provincial ombudsman, Andre Marin, but then wisely decided it would be easier to just put up with him.

The former Liberal government likely would have buried Stogran in work by calling a royal commission or or kicked him upstairs into a higher paying, but less visible, job before he caused anymore trouble.

The current government is likely learning that the bluntest instrument isn’t the best instrument for dealing with trouble.

And if they look up Morton Shulman on Wikipedia, they will find that the doctor was able to launch a very successful political career in the Ontario legislature as a New Democrat after his firing.

Maybe Stogran will be offered a Senate appointment.

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