Government Faces Pressure to Explain Cleary Leave – Telegraph Journal, 5 December, 2015

article by Karissa Donkin
originally printed in the Telegraph Journal, 5 December 2015
Pressure continues to build on the Gallant government to reveal details about why the chief medical officer of health has been forced to take a leave of absence from her job.

Both the Opposition Tories and Green party Leader David Coon have called for the government to tell the public why Dr. Eilish Cleary has been placed on leave and when she could return to her job.

Without details from government, rumours about the reasons behind Cleary’s leave are swirling.

“This is the problem when you don’t have the information,” Opposition Tory Leader Bruce Fitch said.“You start speculating. I don’t want to speculate on the reason or the whys or the wheres. If the government has some information, they should clarify it.”

In question period on Friday, Coon said Cleary, who is one of his constituents,“has no idea what she is supposed to have done wrong or why she was forced to take this leave.”

“Will the minister of health clear the air today and explain to the people of New Brunswick why Dr.Cleary has been asked to take this leave of absence?” Coon asked Health Minister Victor Boudreau.

Boudreau responded by saying Coon should know the government can’t talk about human resources issues.

“Yesterday, the civil service – in quite an unprecedented move,actually – came out and stated that very clearly,” Boudreau said in question period.“The deputy minister of health explained the situation (in a statement on Thursday).It has nothing to do with the office per se, and it is a personnel matter that we cannot discuss on the floor of the Legislature.”

Pressed by reporters after question period, Boudreau wouldn’t budge on revealing more details.

“As I’ve said many times and as I’ve repeated in the house, this is not something that I can comment about,” he said.“It is a personnel matter. We’ve addressed that. The civil service has addressed it very directly as well. This has nothing to do with the independence of the office.It is an HR matter that I cannot comment on.”

By the“civil service,”Boudreau means deputy minister Tom Maston,who broke the government’s near-silence on the Cleary matter on Thursday. In a statement,Maston – who was first appointed to his post in February 2014 by the David Alward Tories – said Cleary’s leave isn’t “politically motivated.”

He also said that questions haven’t been raised about Cleary’s medical or scientific research.

Reached on Thursday, Cleary said she didn’t advise the media about her leave but rather confirmed reports that were going around.

“I believe I have respected confidentiality as I was requested to do,”Cleary said in an email.

The Green party leader has raised questions about whether Cleary’s leave could be related to a pending report by a government-appointed commission studying shale gas development, given her past work on the file. In past reports, Cleary has urged more protections for public health before moving on shale gas development.

Boudreau responded to Coon’s question by reading the statement from Mas-ton.

J.D. Irving, Limited also weighed in on the issue. Earlier this week, the CBC reported that Cleary was placed on leave while researching glyphosate, noting that the herbicide is used by JDI and NB Power. In that story, Ann Pohl, a member of the Council of Canadians organization, suggested the possibility that political pressure had been placed on Cleary as a result of that research, which is continuing under the acting chief medical officer of health, Dr. Jennifer Russell.

In its statement, JDI said CBC hadn’t called for comment, but the company would have said it supports Cleary’s“desire to develop a deeper understanding of the use of glyphosate with peer-reviewed science.”The company called for the story to be removed from CBC’s website and retracted.

On Twitter, CBC reporter Jacques Poitras said the CBC stands behind the story.

When asked if JDI had any communication with government officials about Cleary, her research or her employment status, spokeswoman Mary Keith said the company didn’t know about her leave of absence or Cleary’s research until reading the CBC story.
Dr. Eilish Cleary, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health. Photo: telegraPh-Journal archive