Thursday, June 4, 2009

 

WHEN "CORPORATE" MEMORY FAILS

It has been 11 years since I left the CBC. Through much of the nineties my work at the Corporate headquarters meant that I had a close relationship with the national broadcaster's Board of Directors. Though less frequently, I still receive phone inquiries from former colleagues about whether I remember such and such a Corporate decision, why it was taken at the time, and the debate that preceeded it.

An institution's "memory" is frequently the first victim of budget cuts, downsizing, departures and re-organizations; leaving those behind to debate old decisions, revisit issues previously resolved, and commit new - old errors.

No: It isn't another round of misplaced "secret" cabinet documents nor the current "deja-vu" of the Isotopes fiasco that make me reflect on these concerns... Though had my career been in politics; maybe!

It's been rather the bargain basement auction of Rideau Hall memorabilia. Plus, an unknown amount of misplaced gold at the Mint. And, apparently the "systematic" failure of disclosure deadlines at the good ole' CBC that are causing me pain.

Since published reports of the sale by internet auction of so-called "surplus" items from the Rideau Hall collection, several former employees of the Governor-General's residence have come forward with their own institutional memories. The most startling comes from Richard Legrand: For 35 years "maitre d'" to the Queen's representative in Canada. Mr. Legrand confirms that three sterling silver flower baskets sold last week for $532 to an auction buyer in Luskville, Quebec - Were in fact "on loan" for Buckingham Palace and wedding gifts to the Queen's grandparents in 1892. In the first place...they weren't ours to sell. Second...experts have estimated each is worth at least $10,000. The Government is trying to get them back. Good luck with that!

As for the Royal Canadian Mint - It seems they're missing a "pile" of Gold, silver, platinum and other precious metals. No one seems to know why, where, or how? The mint's 101 year-old international reputation is at stake. But, it can't reconcile the value of the precious metals it has on its books and the actual stockpile of gold, platinum, and silver it has in its vaults. "Qu'el conundrum!" Auditors, third party experts and Mint brainiacks have been burning the midnight oil to probe whether it's a massive undetected theft or really sloppy book-keeping. A decision will be made soon on whether the RCMP needs to be called-in. Sounds like a case for Inspector Clousseau doesn't it?

In the early years of my association with the CBC's Corporate Secretariat, it had a staff of 14 people. On my departure in December 1997, two were left. Crown Corporations, including the CBC were forced under the umbrella of the Federal Government's "access to information" legislation 10 years later in 2007. One additional Secretariat staff person was added to handle that task. In a case heard in Federal Court this week it has been obvious that A) the CBC was not up to the task...But B) Either some people had been lying in wait for years to get to the CBC's intimate secrets, or they take particular pleasure in filing frivolous requests to bog down the bureaucracy.

I suppose it doesn't matter which...Mother Corp. felt the wrath of lawyers for the complainant...David Statham, the Ottawa resident who overwhelmed the CBC by filing 283 individual requests, some of which took 18 months to handle. A lawyer for the Office of the Federal Information Commissioner told the Court some government departments are now taking 3 to 5 years to provide information requested under the legislation. Note to Mr. Statham and to the Federal Court - The CBC's mandate is to make radio and television programs. It's been damn good at doing that since 1936 / Everything else at the Mother Corp. is just silly "housekeeping"!

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