Government House leader defends clerk after critics accuse him of pro-Liberal partisanship

·4 min read
Liberal House leader Mark Holland is defending the clerk of the House of Commons against claims of pro-Liberal partisanship. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)
Liberal House leader Mark Holland is defending the clerk of the House of Commons against claims of pro-Liberal partisanship. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press - image credit)

Government House leader Mark Holland defended the clerk of the House of Commons today against claims that he showed partisanship toward the Liberals, slept on the job and was disrespectful to some staff.

On his way into cabinet today, Holland called Clerk Charles Robert "a man of extraordinary integrity."

"I want to really lament the attack and the smears that are taking place against the clerk of the House of Commons," he said.

"I understand the Conservatives have problems over there. I understand that they're trying to create distractions. But this is not fair ball. This is a public servant and I'm very disturbed about what's going on."

The Conservatives and the NDP yesterday called on the Liberals to release emails and text messages between the Liberal Party and Robert. The opposition parties said those messages would be key to getting to the bottom of allegations they called "troubling."

According to Robert's official job description, he's expected to advise the Speaker and all MPs on parliamentary procedure "regardless of party affiliation" and "with impartiality and discretion."

CBC News reported last week that Robert has been accused by multiple sources of making partisan comments and sharing confidential information with the Liberals that could have given the party a strategic advantage over the opposition in the House.

Clerk is 'beyond reproach,' says Holland

CBC News obtained letters and spoke to ten sources with knowledge of the issues. The sources asked not to be named because they didn't want to jeopardize anyone's career.

Robert has maintained that he has served Parliament and all parliamentarians for the past 40 years with integrity and to the best of his ability. Holland accused opposition parties of "parlaying schoolyard rumours."

"In all of my dealings with the clerk ... he is a man of integrity who has been beyond reproach in his non-partisanship," he said.

Holland said that a third-party review conducted in 2018 found no basis for allegations questioning Robert's ethics and integrity. That review looked into written complaints from five senior managers detailing a variety of claims.

But that third-party review did not address complaints that later arose claiming Robert had made partisan comments and shared confidential information with the Liberals in advance.

When CBC News asked Holland if he was asserting that all the allegations were false, he said claims about Robert's "ethics, integrity, his honesty were found to be baseless."

It's not clear which allegations Holland was citing. CBC News has asked the clerk's office for clarification.

The clerk's office said it would not release a copy of that third-party review publicly because it contains confidential information. CBC News has not seen a copy of the report.

The 2018 external review examined claims made by senior managers in the clerk's office that they regularly saw Robert sleeping in the House of Commons chamber during question period — when he's supposed to be ready to give advice to the Speaker if needed.

Justin Tang/Canadian Press
Justin Tang/Canadian Press

Robert confirmed that the 2018 external report did address that complaint.

"The 2018 report identified the situation with respect to [an] instance of falling asleep in the Chamber and it has since been addressed," Robert told CBC News in a media statement.

The external review also looked into claims that Robert treated some staff with disrespect.

In a statement to CBC News, Robert said the review "concluded that the bond of trust between Procedural Services executives and me was not present."

Mediator brought in

Following that third-party review, a mediator was brought in to draft an action plan to establish a more collaborative and healthy work climate.

On June 20, 2019, the complainants wrote to the Speaker claiming that the mediation effort went sideways after a single day.

"The Clerk indicated that he wished to withdraw from the process as one strict condition he insisted upon was not met," reads the letter. "That condition was an an apology from all of us for having shared with you our concerns about the clerk's performance."

In that letter to the Speaker, one of the complainants claims that Robert asked for the other complainants' workplace performance evaluations to be changed to state that they demonstrated a lack of judgment by raising concerns about his work.

"I indicated to him that I could not do so as it would be seen as intimidation and retaliation, and that it went against the assurances that both you and Human Resources provided to us last year that we could be protected for our actions, especially as regards to the performance management program," reads the letter.

Holland said MPs asked questions during an in-camera session of the House of Commons' Board of Internal Economy about a number of staff departures from the clerk's office. Three senior managers with almost 100 years collective experience went on sick leave and retired early.

Robert's chief audit executive also walked away from the job over a concern about a conflict of interest, multiple sources said. Robert removed the auditor's ability to take concerns directly to the Speaker. If the auditor ever found wrongdoing, the report would go only to Robert.

Holland said the House of Commons chief human resources officer told the Board of Internal Economy that the staff turnover was "well within the normal range."

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