Mid-level information technology bureaucrats got major provincial government contractors to pay for drinks, meals and gifts at a staff appreciation event this past May, Public Eye has exclusively learned. Records obtained via a freedom of information request show civil servants at the ministry of labour and citizens' services workplace application services branch first proposed getting their contractors to chip-in for the event back in February.
"Can we look to our vendors for contributions," one asked in an email. "I should think so," responded a colleague. "Any reasons why not? Not like we'll be asking for Bill Clinton tickets or anything." Still, another manager suggested their boss, then acting executive director Paul Sihota, "could check the current thinking as it seems to change with the (political) tides. ;-)."
But the bureaucrats must have thought those tides were flowing in their favour. Because, subsequently, a Hewlett-Packard Co. executive was asked if the company "could contribute a round of drinks (attendee expectations are for between 45 and 60 people) and 10 or so HP logo gift items."
And, in another email, a Sierra Systems Inc. representative was told she was "more than welcome to attend this celebration at the Macaroni Grill. In fact, we'll actually need you and your credit card to be there!"
That credit card, as well as Hewitt-Packard's, were each used to purchase a round of alcohol for approximately half of the 60 people who showed up. Computer Associates Inc., according to a detailed agenda for the event, also paid for a "$400 Macaroni Grill gift certificate to be used against (the) food and desert bill." And Fujitsu Inc. contributed a "large number of gift certificates" for an employee prize draw.
The New Democrats were unavailable to comment on the issue. But the government seems to have taken a dim view of the public-private party - which, all totalled, received about $1,000 in corporate funding.
In an interview with Public Eye, labour and citizens' services communications manager Linda O'Connor said, "As soon as we found out about this, our senior officials conducted an immediate investigation. And what they found - through the investigation, after interviewing the employees - was that while their conduct didn't necessarily contravene the standards of conduct for public servants it certainly went into an area we couldn't condone."
As a result, the officials "talked to the employees. And then we gave them an education program on the standards of conduct for public servants. And we've made certain they're now clear on their boundaries within those standards of conflict."