A Tangled Web !

Sunshine Village’s communications to Parks Canada only serve to further confuse public safety timelines of January 19th, 2011.

When it comes to issues of public and workplace safety comunications at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort there is no excuse for anything but the truth at all times.    The company should be held to an exacting standard of corporate conduct as a condition of its lease.  This is especially applicable when the issue is about the safety of people’s lives and well-being in Canada’s premier national park.  Not only do park visitors, customers, employees and government agencies deserve honesty but it’s also a legal obligation.  

So has the Sunshine Village management been honest, forthright and truthful with all groups regarding the events and safety issues of January 19, 2011 ?  

hon·est

honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair: an honest person.

Lie

To lie is to hold something which one knows is not the whole truth to be the whole truth, intentionally.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie

On the day in question Doug Firby (Sunshine media handler) spoke to the media about a patrol “walkout” that day and expressed the company’s surprise about the whole thing.  Firby told the media that Sunshine Village had no knowledge of what he termed “morale issues” raised by the patrollers. He said that Sunshine took the patrollers “at their word” (such irony), hoped they all got well soon and came back to work. He encouraged them to speak to management promising they would be heard and all would be well again. The next day, when the patrollers took Firby at his word, two of them were fired when they returned to work and the rest were questioned and threatened.

Sunshine Village Watch has previously shown that at the same time that Doug Firby was presenting this disarming official corporate line to the media, an internal email from Steve Novak (Aramark’s Sunshine Village GM) showed what the management actually knew about the “issues” and instructed the resort’s Food and Beverage staff to lie about it to Sunshine’s paying customers.  Novak attributes this lie to “Sunshine management” (an interesting example of their management and leadership style).  So while many of Sunshine’s professional ski patrollers, in the midst of unprecedented peak-season department changes, were taking desperate measures to get attention to their immediate safety concerns, Sunshine was telling resort staff to lie to Sunshine’s customers  and tell them it’s an “unexpected lift interruption”.  The email claims that Sunshine’s paying guests didn’t need to know the truth of the matter.

Then Parks Canada got involved.  Parks Canada is the federal government agency charged with administering the lease provisions including those that are meant to ensure that public safety requirements are met (paragraph 29).  The expectation of all Canadians is that even if the private corporation is off-track, Parks Canada will ensure safety standards are upheld.  The emails and letters to Parks Canada show that Ken Derpak (then Sunshine Village GM, VP of Operations and acting Mountain Manager) came up with his own version of the timeline of events in his communications to then Banff Superintendent Van Tighem.

In his amusingly petulant letter of March 4th, 2011 Derpak states that Sunshine called Alberta’s lift regulatory agency AEDARSA on the morning of January 19th “prior to opening” and discussed Sunshine’s operating plan with them.  So presumably well before Doug Firby was telling the media his “we know nothing” story later that day, we have Ken Derpak claiming to discuss an alternative, presumably detailed and hopefully written gondola evacuation plan with AEDARSA before opening the gondola to employees arriving for work that morning (usually at 7:30am).  He must have been moving very fast,  very early that morning to ensure that “all necessary safety precautions” were addressed as per the lease requirement, which of course is strange given that Doug Firby said they “knew nothing”  and so consequently would have known nothing until patrollers didn’t show for work (usually around 7:30am).

In the same letter Derpak tells Parks Canada that Sunshine had already made a back-up plan and contracted with Rodney Gair and Lifeskill Rescue Services prior to January 19, 2011.  In his email of January 21, 2011 Derpak included a written note from Rodney Gair that was coincidentally dated January 19, 2011 and stated that Lifeskill had agreed to provide services that week with “immediate effect”.    So is it just coincidence that Derpak had developed an arrangement that very week with Gair supposedly prior to January 19th when Firby later says the company knew nothing of any “morale issues” with the patrollers?

Does any of this really matter?  The answer is YES, it really does!  Very much!   When fully loaded, the Sunshine Village gondola carries more people through the air than many commercial airplanes and there’s plenty that can and does go wrong.  Evacuating the full length of the gondola (both sides) would be an extremely challenging public safety emergency requiring precise site-specific planning, training and implementation.  You don’t make this stuff up on-the-fly on the back of a breakfast napkin.  In his letter, Derpak is making formal representations on behalf of Sunshine Village to a formal inquiry from the federal agency charged with ensuring public safety in Banff National Park.  What Sunshine management knew, when it knew, what actions it took and why it took them all needs to be very clear and transparent.  Under examination here is the ability of Sunshine Village to make appropriate public safety decisions for park visitors even when they may negatively impact the corporations profit and image.  Unfortunately Derpak’s unsubstantive letter only raises more questions about that.

It is appropriate for Sunshine Village to publicly clarify exactly who Derpak spoke to at AEDARSA and exactly when the communication occurred.  This information can then be verified with AEDARSA (surely both sides documented such a discussion?).  Derpak should also provide the written evidence of the comprehensive alternative gondola evacuation plan that he discussed with AEDARSA that morning , which apparently replaced the standard procedure that day, and which was presumably and verifiably distributed to ALL managers, dispatch and key response staff PRIOR to opening the gondola to Sunshine staff that morning (yes even employees on their way to work are people too).  Those documents would begin to support Derpak’s version of events and even explain (maybe) his disrespectful and petulant manner. They would also help to establish Sunshine Village’s compliance on January 19th, 2011 with AEDARSA‘s public safety ski lift regulations (CSA Z98 Code) and the Parks Canada lease obligations.

Without that definitive supporting evidence Derpak has simply added more puffery to a tangled web of words.  However in unexpected balance, the email from Steve Novak to his F&B staff was quite clear.  Sunshine management was certainly lying to their customers that day – Novak, to his credit, was refreshingly honest about that fact.  The question now is, if they will lie to their customers, are they being honest with Parks Canada?

To keep up with further updates and discussion of this issue please follow Sunshine Village Watch on Facebook or Twitter

“We don’t know of any morale issues”

“Most of us apply filters to to the things we say, and, most of the time, that’s a very good thing.But we become so skilled at censoring ourselves and filtering our thoughts that we can lose site of our ability to be frank and honest – sometimes even with ourselves. That’s not so good. “  ~ Doug Firby “Unfiltered”  (from www.dougfirby.ca – which has been password protected since this link was made)

On January 19, 2011  some Sunshine Village ski patrollers chose to not show up for work in protest of the firing of another patroller, concerns over loss of senior staff and resulting perceived safety issues that they felt were not being heard by Sunshine Village management.  As a result of the walk-out only three lifts were operating that day at Sunshine Village.  By late morning, the walk-out had garnered immediate and massive media interest and coverage.

Doug Firby is Associate Director, Communications, Media and Marketing, for Sunshine Village Corporation. He reports directly to John and Ralph Scurfield.  Firby made the following statements to the media that day:

“We don’t know of any morale issues,”  ~Doug Firby (Calgary Herald January 19, 2011)

(Firby) said he hopes the sick patrollers are feeling better and back at work on Thursday. “We’re taking them at their word on that,” he said. “I mean the best thing would be for them to just talk directly to us about whatever issues might be on their mind.” (CBC January 19, 2011)

Doug Firby, a spokesperson for Sunshine Village, questioned the authenticity of the calls to the media, telling Fast Forward Weekly, “We actually don’t know whether these people are actually Sunshine staff or not.” Management, he added, has not heard of any of the allegations firsthand, nor can it discuss any personel issues publicly. (FFWD Weekly – Jan 19, 2011)

The following internal Sunshine Village email from that day was sent out at 10:03 AM well before any patroller or Doug Firby spoke to the media and shows that Sunshine already did in fact know the real nature of the walk-out and the reasons for it.  The email refers to known “internal issues” with staff and directs front-line workers on what to say to customers who apparently, so it states, didn’t need to know the truth of the matter.  The email makes  it clear that the request comes directly from Sunshine Village management.

So when Doug Firby told the media later that day that Sunshine Village was completely surprised, had not heard the allegations, did not know of any morale issues and was not sure these were even Sunshine Village staff – either he wasn’t in the loop or he simply wasn’t telling the unfiltered truth to the reporters.

Despite Firby’s assurances to the patrollers that they should “talk directly” to management, two more patrollers were  fired the following day for expressing their safety concerns on camera.

Many more senior staff have left since and are continuing to leave.

Here’s the “unfiltered” internal email that shows what Sunshine management knew that day and when they knew it!

From: Steve Novak
Sent: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 10:03 AM
To: All Aramark
Subject: Happenings today

Good morning,

With todays lift interruptions I want to ensure that we stay focused on serving our guests with nothing but the best quality product and attention. Any guest who paid for a lift pass today should have received a $20.00 voucher from guest services. If they did not on their way up they may pick it up at the end of their day. The only guests who do not receive a voucher will be season pass holders.

It is important that we help communicate this message as much as possible.

Our guest does not need to know about the internal issues Sunshine is having with its staff so please use the response of “unexpected lift interruption” when people ask why we are only running with 3 lifts. This is the request of Sunshine management.

If you have any questions about today please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Skier count may get just over 1000 today so please be diligent with staffing levels. Remember, do not sacrifice the guest experience!

 Thanks,

 Stephen Novak
General Manager – Food & Beverage and Retail
Aramark Sports, Entertainment & Conventions West Region
Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort
p 403 762 6584 | c 403 431 4331

steve.novak@skibanff.com

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www.skibanff.com