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Hill Life & People

PIPSC election candidates allege union committee censored their bios

By Emily Haws      

The union’s elections committee rules say it will remove ‘any statements that are false, misleading, or unsubstantiated’ from candidate submissions.

The office of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada on Tremblay Road in Ottawa. The union will hold its national elections on Nov. 2. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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As the national election campaign for the second-largest federal public service union heats up, at least two candidates are alleging they have been censored by the union’s elections committee.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents 57,000 government IT workers, scientists, and other professionals, will hold its national election on Nov. 2.

There are 37 candidates running for 14 positions on the board of directors, which includes a president, two full-time vice-presidents, two part-time vice-presidents, and a number of regional directors. Two positions are acclaimed, and all positions hold a term of three years starting in 2019.

Two candidates—part-time vice-presidential candidate Gary Corbett and full-time vice-presidential candidate Tony Purchase—say they are being censored by having parts of their candidate biographies deleted or revised. Mr. Corbett is a former PIPSC president who was defeated in the last election by current president Debi Daviau, while Mr. Purchase has been the main person pushing for a special general meeting about the process that led to former vice-president Shirley Friesen’s resignation.

As part of the election process, candidates can submit a biographical sketch—a 400-word document or a two-minute video detailing who they are and their vision. The elections website says it expects to have them published the week of Sept. 17. There are other avenues for candidates to campaign, but the sketch is one of the easiest.

The bios are reviewed by the seven-person elections committee. Since the biographies are published using PIPSC resources, the committee decided to have them adhere to existing PIPSC bylaws and elections committee administrative procedures.

This means the committee will remove statements it deems create potential for charges of misconduct by “publishing or circulating among the members, false reports or wilful misrepresentations about the institute” or ones that “contain any statements that are false, misleading, or unsubstantiated in their representation of a fellow candidate, PIPSC, or any of its constituent bodies, stewards, employees, executive members, or other representatives,” according to those two documents. 

The candidates are then sent back a copy of the sketch with edits stroked out or highlighted. Depending on what is said, something might be outright deleted or the committee may ask the candidate to reword it. In some cases, certain words are changed for accuracy. The edits the two candidates received suggested there’s a line—that a candidate could be critical, but only to a point.

Mr. Corbett’s sketch was returned to him with the phrase “although unpopular, I even questioned PIPSC when it failed to serve you openly and transparently” taken out, which Mr. Corbett said had been approved during a previous election.

A deleted paragraph also detailed his thoughts that PIPSC has been focused more on the corporation than its membership’s issues.

“PIPSC has forgotten its union values. True union leadership is required to salvage its reputation, credibility, relevance, and effectiveness,” one crossed-out section reads. Mr. Corbett said everything he wrote was true and there were no personal attacks.

“I guess [you] could argue it’s protecting itself from what? Lies? There’s no lies in there. [PIPSC is] protecting its name, I suppose, it could argue,” he said.

Mr. Corbett has publicly criticized PIPSC’s current leadership, including by saying it is too close to the government in a July Ottawa Life op-ed.

PIPSC recently partnered with the Treasury Board Secretariat to collaborate on a solution for the Phoenix pay system, which has left tens of thousands of federal public servants with incorrect pay since February 2016.

He’s also been in conflict in the past with supporters of Ms. Daviau.

He wants to run again to make a difference, he said, adding that being retired, he has the time. The rules say part-time vice-presidents have their salaries reimbursed, and since Mr. Corbett doesn’t have a salary, he’ll be volunteering.

Gary Corbett, who was defeated by Debi Daviau in the last PIPSC election, said he believes his candidate biography is being censored. Photograph courtesy of Gary Corbett’s Twitter

Mr. Corbett edited his bio, and indicated where things had been removed by the committee. However, the committee deleted that as well, saying there was no chance for revision.

“How do you actually tell members what’s going on? That’s the question,” he said. Candidates aren’t allowed to use PIPSC emails, and PIPSC doesn’t release a membership list, so each candidate must collect individual email addresses themselves, Mr. Corbett said.

“It’s just kind of word of mouth,” he said.

Candidates can link to a website in their sketch, and its content isn’t reviewed by the committee unless a complaint is launched, according to the election rules.

The Hill Times contacted every board candidate it could find contact information for to see if the edits were a wider issue. Some refused to  comment, while others said they didn’t have any changes made to their submissions. Two who said they had revisions didn’t want to speak about it.

Two PIPSC communications officials were repeatedly contacted for this story, including being sent a full list of questions, but they did not respond by deadline.

Full-time vice-presidential candidate Katie Oppen said her bio hadn’t been changed, but she wasn’t highly critical of PIPSC. She said she is supportive of Ms. Daviau’s direction for the union.

The union’s internal dispute resolution policy says that members can’t publish or circulate among members any false reports or wilful misrepresentations about PIPSC, nor can they slander, libel, or deliberately wrong any member of PIPSC, she said, so maybe the committee took parts out that possibly violated that rule in order to protect candidates “from making a big mistake.”

The Hill Times also contacted PIPSC elections committee chair Jim McMillan, but he refused an interview because he was “not interested in becoming publicly involved in a grievance process,” he said in an email, adding “I believe that it is outside of my volunteer responsibilities.”

He did say he was appointed by the board. While most committees are chaired by a board member or have a board member on the committee, the elections committee is at arm’s length, said Mr. McMillan.

“We do not take direction from the board nor is there a member of the board on our committee,” he said. “I was appointed by the board and my recommendations for the rest of the committee members are reviewed and approved by the board.”

The fact the board appoints the members of the committee means it can still influence the election, said Mr. Corbett and Mr. Purchase.

Purchase pushes for special meeting mention

Tony Purchase has pushed back against the idea of excluding his push for a special general meeting from his candidate biography. Photograph courtesy of Tony Purchase

Mr. Purchase said he is particularly annoyed that the elections committee revised the part of his sketch that discussed his push for a special general meeting regarding the resignation of former part-time vice-president Shirley Friesen. She had a pending harassment lawsuit against senior PIPSC leadership that was dropped in late June, which has some members questioning if she accepted a settlement negotiated by the board members named in the suit, without board approval. 

The board has said it’s “satisfied that senior officials acted entirely within the letter and spirit of the bylaws,” and the two board members named in the now-dropped suit, Ms. Daviau and vice-president Steve Hindle, did not respond to or refused The Hill Times’ previous requests for comment about it.

A requisition for the meeting was rejected because the board claimed Mr. Purchase had a personal vendetta, and the federal law governing non-profit corporations says a special general meeting doesn’t need to be held if it’s clearly being requested due to a personal vendetta. Mr. Purchase said doesn’t have one, and that he’s just interested in good governance.

Originally all mention of the requisition in his bio was scrubbed, said Mr. Purchase, but he said he pushed back and the matter was addressed in one sentence: “Personally, I do not agree with the legislated option that PIPSC quoted to reject the requisition for a special general meeting.”

Other than mentioning the requisition, Mr. Purchase called the board “dysfunctional” and “incapacitated.” Both comments were removed.

“How [do] facts make PIPSC look bad?” he said. “It is censorship.”

ehaws@hilltimes.com

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