An employee at the National Energy Board who alleges he was a victim of workplace violence has taken the federal government to court, accusing officials of tampering with an exam he wrote when he applied for another public service job.
Brian Doyle — a communications specialist with the federal pipeline regulator who is currently on unpaid leave from his job — wants the Federal Court of Canada to agree that his superiors at the NEB, including a high-ranking official, acted fraudulently when he applied for a job at the Western Economic Diversification Department, and that the results of the selection process should therefore be overturned.
Doyle launched the case after the Public Service Commission, an independent federal watchdog agency, investigated the matter and dismissed his allegations. The case revolves around a July 2016 hiring process for a public relations position he applied for at the economic diversification department. While Doyle alleges that the public service watchdog's investigator showed signs of bias, the commission has denied this allegation.
The case was scheduled to be heard in court on Wednesday.
Hostility and workplace violence
Doyle says in an affidavit that conflict with and hostility from his superior at the NEB prompted him to apply for the outside position. After he was unsuccessful in the job competition, he says the regulator tried to deploy him into a new role where he could be terminated without cause.
In a separate application, Doyle is also asking federal court to review the NEB’s rejection of his December 2016 complaint that he was the victim of workplace violence.
Employee at National Energy Board says was recipient of "frustration and hostility" in the workplace and alleges someone tampered with his placement exam for a new job. #NEB #cdnpoli #PublicServiceCommission #SecretsofGovernment
Doyle's affidavit and other court filings did not identify details about the alleged harassment or other people involved in the alleged workplace violence.
His hearing comes amid waning staff morale at the Calgary-based regulator.
A recent NEB survey found a precipitous decline in job satisfaction among its 450 employees and a dramatic rise in their concerns about the ethics of management.
From 2014 to 2017, the proportion of employees who said the regulator was a great place to work dropped from 82 to 66 per cent, while the proportion with concerns about whether senior managers displayed ethical behaviour increased from 15 to 35 per cent.
Public service watchdog defends investigation
NEB spokesperson Craig Loewen declined to answer questions from the National Observer about Doyle’s case because it was before the courts. He did not respond to separate written queries about morale among staff at the agency’s offices in Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal.
The Public Service Commission has responded to Doyle's allegations against the NEB and his attempt to overturn the findings of their investigation by asking the court to dismiss his case.
"Following an investigation... the commission reasonably determined that the allegation (by Doyle of tampering with his written exam) was not founded, on a balance of probabilities," said a statement of response filed in court by Christine Ashcroft, a lawyer from the federal government's Justice Department. "That conclusion was within a range of reasonable outcomes, defensible on the facts, intelligible, and transparent."
The investigation report by the commission reveals Doyle filed a complaint in 2017 after he applied for and obtained a corrected copy of his exam from the department and noted discrepancies with the one he had completed at the NEB’s Calgary offices. He recalled putting his initials on all the pages of the test, but his signature was missing on some pages of the copy that had been scanned and sent to the government department by Catherine Barclay, the regulator’s chief of staff. He said some answers were incomplete that he remembered completing.
While the original copy of Doyle’s exam was never located, the investigator nonetheless didn't find enough evidence to confirm his allegation.
Barclay did not respond to questions about the allegations of tampering with Doyle's exam.
In the affidavit, Doyle says a hiring manager with the economic diversification department told him in an August 2016 phone call that he had also failed the interview portion of the process because he had made a mistake in a role-playing exercise with a fictional journalist. In the exercise, Doyle had revealed the dollar amount of an infrastructure project announcement to the fictional journalist. By providing this information, he said he was told that he had “stolen the minister’s thunder.”
In his application for judicial review, Doyle takes issue with the investigation report’s finding that he had a “positive working environment” at the NEB when he applied for the opening.
“The applicant highlighted for the investigator that he endured harassment at the National Energy Board, a factor that influenced his participation in the selection at another federal department/agency,” the application reads.
At the time he applied for the new job, Doyle reported to Sylvain Bédard, the NEB’s executive vice-president of transparency and strategic engagement.
Bédard resigned from the regulator last year after it was revealed he had approved a sole-source contract to a private investigator to identify which employees had spoken to National Observer about internal decisions and action by management at the regulator.
The $24,150 contract was awarded to Ottawa-based Presidia Security Consulting in 2016 after sources told National Observer the regulator’s then top bureaucrat, chief operating officer Josée Touchette, had joked at a staff meeting about arming them with tasers to face off with environmentalists. Touchette also left her position at the NEB in 2017 to accept a new executive position in Paris with the OECD.
About one year before leaving his job, Bédard sent a note to all staff apologizing for the internal disruption caused by the investigation to identify whistleblowers.
When contacted by email, Bédard did not respond directly to questions about Doyle's complaints of harassment.
"I have no knowledge of the status of any ongoing litigation," he said in an email sent on Jan. 16, after the original version of this article was published. "I recall Brian Doyle as a good employee, with strength in managing correspondence and meeting finance policies."
Moving boxes at his desk
Reached by phone at his Calgary home, Doyle declined to comment on either of his cases because the matters were before the court, but he confirmed he is currently on leave without pay from the NEB and is not working.
According to Doyle’s online professional profile, he was part of a team at the agency that won an award in 2017 from the NEB’s chairman for implementing new software to manage correspondence with stakeholders.
Doyle says in his affidavit he received three years of positive performance reviews, was promoted and had been elevated to the role of the lead indigenous engagement specialist on the high-profile Energy East pipeline project from 2014 to 2016.
Yet despite exceeding expectations and receiving positive feedback on his work, he says he was the recipient of “frustration and hostility” from his immediate superior in 2016, who had come to the agency from the economic diversification department.
“Only weeks following the exam with ...(the department), this same individual reorganized my responsibilities,” Doyle said. “When I requested a clarification, ….(the manager) orchestrated a “deployment” to a newly created, unique position that I declined.”
He says he came to learn about the planned transition through the arrival of moving boxes at his desk.
At least one other NEB worker is also challenging their treatment by the agency. The Public Service Employee Relations Board — which is charged with looking into allegations of abuse of authority inside the civil service — is set to hear a complaint by financial analyst Wanda Wiebe in mid-March.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 2:05 p.m. ET on Jan. 17, 2019 with a new comment from Sylvain Bédard.