Paul Wells, the senior Maclean's columnist who has been doing most of the heavy lifting on the Rights and Democracy mess, is burning out:
I am going to very substantially scale back my writing about this issue. I have reached the point where I am wasting my breath. My consolation is that many tens of thousands of Canadians now see this charade for what it is; that this has turned into a very, very bad day at the office for all concerned, including a few strategic geniuses who thought they could narrow-cast their way to electoral gain while the rest of the country missed this story; and that I have managed to shine a bit of a light on some of the most squalid behaviour I have ever witnessed in 20 years as a reporter. I am so grateful to Maclean’s readers for following the details of this often-complex story.
But if he is indeed exiting, it's with a bang, not a whimper.
To put his for-now closing remarks in context, you need to read the Magnificent Seven's second salvo of self-justification in the National Post on Tuesday. It is so transparently false, so disingenuous, so jam-packed with falsehoods and innuendo, that Wells loses his cool altogether.
"It's not about the Middle East" is the staggeringly disingenuous lede, and it's all downhill from there. The Braun Bunch score several own-goals, besmirching the memory of the late President, Rémy Beauregard, mauling their own management team, and taking a kick or two at their staff.
"[T]he real story here is a board doing its duty," they claim.
We on the board found the problems; we did not create them. The current “crisis” has been produced by a staff misled by its leadership and prone to periodic eruptions.
Everyone's out of step but the Seven. We get a "politics, shmolitics" defensive line that one might sum up as "yes we have no agenda." It's all about transparency and accountability, they say. One can almost hear them whistling innocently--in unison.
But it quickly emerges that the late Beauregard is the reason for writing the piece. He's in no position to fight back, of course. I had always thought there was a law against offering indignities to a corpse, but the Seven seem to have little compunction in that regard.
Readers will recall that a central aspect of this bordel was the preparation of a negative evaluation by three Board members, constituted as an executive review committee. Beauregard was forced to use Access to Information to see it.
Secret evaluation? What secret evaluation? ask the Seven, wide-eyed. Beauregard had plenty of chances to meet with Chairman Aurel Braun, Elliott Tepper and Jacques Gauthier, who had prepared the report, they say. "He chose not to avail himself of those opportunities."
And this is simply breathtaking:
The former president rejected the criticism of his presidency found in the presidential performance report. That was not surprising. But his response was misguided: He tried to mobilize the staff and board to counter it. Even informing the staff of the contents of his personnel report was a gross violation, given his authority as their superior. In any case, the performance review report was advisory only and not constitutive. The review was advice to the Privy Council which the Privy Council could accept or reject as it saw fit. Instead of rallying the troops internally to support him, the former president could have just written to the Privy Council, expressing his disagreement with the review and asking the Privy Council to ignore it, which it was free to do. He did not take that path.
Read that paragraph carefully. The glaring absence of a timeline is telling. In fact the impression is given, to readers unfamiliar with the controversy, that the President had the evaluation in his hands and chose to inflame his employees rather than write a rebuttal. The President, we are told, could have written to the Privy Council but "did not take that path." What we are not told is that he had to spend months to obtain the evaluation, while his efforts were vigorously countered, at considerable expense, by the Braun faction.
Then the Seven unleash a volley of accusations against all and sundry:
Senior managers failed to protect the former president from damaging behaviour over a personnel dispute with the board, and failed to protect their staff from the distortions, disruptions, insubordination and poisoning of the atmosphere which ensued, and which were amplified when the former president died. CEOs and senior managers in Canada are not entitled to pressure boards over personnel matters, nor abuse their authority over subordinates, nor declare independence from the board of directors. Staff cannot use tax dollars without oversight. This organization cannot engage in politics at home instead of doing its job of promoting human rights overseas. [emphases added]
The Seven don't merely smear--they bring out the ol' super-soaker and go after the entire organization they're supposed to be managing. That should promote harmony and a healthy, well-functioning workplace.
In the midst of their thrashing and flailing, they manage a now-obligatory shot at the three Middle East human rights organizations that are, pace the Seven, at the centre of all this: B'Tselem, Al-Haq and Al-Mezan, referred to as "suspect organizations." And critics like Paul Wells and maybe even myself, are dismissed as "conflict entrepreneurs." I shall have that one framed.
As noted, Wells is nearly undone, calling this outrageous bit of rhetorical flim-flam a "display of bulbous rubber noses and floppy shoes from the seven clowns running Rights and Democracy." And that's just for starters.
The charge that the late President could have met with his three evaluators at any time? Turns out that the beleaguered Beauregard addressed that very point in a letter on October 26:
“With respect to the efforts made to accommodate the President for a meeting of the [executive review] Committee,” he wrote, “it is important to clarify that of the 55 days proposed by the Secretary of the Board for such a meeting, the President indicated he was available for 45 of those days.”
Why then no meeting? Wells asks. Well, the Committee never could find a day when the three of them could get together.
What about the organizational running of Rights and Democracy? The Seven keep referring to a critical evaluation by Foreign Affairs in 2007, but, as Wells points out, they keep ignoring altogether DFAIT's positive final evaluation a year later that capped a five-year audit of the Centre.
Here's the exasperated Wells on the Seven's persistent misinformation about this matter:
I’ve written [about] that a half-dozen times here, and I know for a fact that the Braun Circus has many friends who read this blog closely now as part of their work day. I repeated it on TVO’s The Agenda With Steve Paikin on Friday night. And still this bunch refuses to ever mention the 2008 evaluation, and still this bunch claims the problems “regrettably remain,” and still this bunch hauls in an audit firm with a vague mandate which their own public statements define in contradictory ways. The staff is terrified that their due-process rights will be run roughshod. Who can blame them? Ask Rémy Beauregard. Oh, that’s right. He’s dead.
Although I would regret not seeing more of Wells on this issue--I hope that he might soon change his mind--I can hardly blame him for being tired and frustrated as the slimy alibis and attacks continue unchecked, with government connivance. Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon has defended the interim President's pointless forensic audit, and tapped as the new President a man with decided views on Muslims and immigration that, to be charitable, have little to do with human rights. What was once an admired organization with an international reputation continues its downhill slide, and there is an awful air of inevitability about it.
As someone with a long and abiding interest in governance, I might agree that we should try to leave our entrenched positions on Middle East affairs at the door and look at the current antics at Rights and Democracy simply as a model of how not to manage an institution. But it's hard to ignore the Middle Eastern elephant in the room, frightening the hired help and bothering the guests. To pretend that there's no such animal, as the Seven do with an utterly unconvincing look of injured innocence, is frankly an insult to our intelligence. And to carry on in this fashion, as we have every indication they will, sullies the very notion of human rights that the Centre was intended to promote.
[For those who want background and personalities, be sure to watch the entire 36-minute clip from The Agenda up at Well's place. And why not send Paul a warm word or two?]