Positive Communication to Whistleblowers

There's quite a storm of media coverage in Canada over allegations of contract fixing, illegal commissions and possible fraud among a number of government departments. This entire embroglio developed from an effort to increase advertising and sponsorship opportunities to promote the "brand' of Canada in Quebec following a separatist referendum in 1995. One of the organizations involved was the national passenger rail company, VIA Rail. In 2002, a mid-level marketing manager complained to management about the unusual fees being charged for some events being sponsored by VIA. The manager, Myriam Bedard, eventually quit her position under pressure.

In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has been asking staff who have details about the scandal to step forward. This prompted Ms. Bedard to send a letter to the PM, alleging that she had been fired for speaking up.

How did VIA's Chairman (and former Chief of Staff to the former PM) respond? "She wants to take advantage of the situation," Pelletier told La Presse on Thursday. "I don't want to be mean, but this is a poor woman in a pitiful state, a woman with no husband that I know of. She's feeling the pressure of being a single mother with financial responsibilities. Basically, I find it pitiful."

The guy picked on the wrong woman. Myriam Bedard is a two time Olympic gold medallist in the biathalon. And the Prime Minister backed her up today: he fired the Chair of VIA Rail.

"The comments made last week by Mr. Pelletier regarding Myriam Bédard were totally unacceptable," said Prime Minister Paul Martin. "I asked people who had knowledge about possible wrongdoings to come forward. And when they do, I expect them to be treated fairly. This was clearly not the case. My government came to office with a commitment to change the way things work. The actions we are taking today reflect that commitment."

In the extremely insular and self-reflective world of Canadian culture, Myriam Bedard was the subject of one warm and fuzzy feature ad - which could be seen as part of the overall "branding" and sponsorship program.