The Harper government has scrambled to kill a proposal drafted by its own bureaucrats that would help out-of-work Canadians find jobs as strippers, table dancers and escorts - an initiative that was denounced by officials in Ontario and, as it turns out, done without the go-ahead of the federal Human Resources Minister.
Plans to reform the national job bank website came to an abrupt end on Thursday after John Milloy, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, told the federal government that the province will not comply with a draft directive sent to all the provinces.
Ryan Sparrow, a spokesman for federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, sought to distance his boss from the initiative, saying she had absolutely nothing to do with it. But with no one taking responsibility for the proposal, it remains unclear why someone in government sought the changes.
The Harper government has made it clear in the past that it is not in favour of measures that would lend more legitimacy to the adult-entertainment industry. But it appears from a draft bulletin sent to all the provinces that the bureaucrats were trying to do just that by updating the job bank to include all legal occupations.
Mr. Sparrow struggled for an explanation. He initially said a report in The Toronto Star about a draft bulletin sent to the provinces was "utterly false."
However, when it was later pointed out to him that the Ontario government had received a copy of the bulletin, he said that negotiations to include exotic dancers in the job bank had been conducted between the Human Resources Department and the provinces - but only on a precursory basis and without the knowledge of the minister or senior department officials.
The memo was written by Nancy Timbrell-Muckle, the director of citizen employment service within the department who was described by Mr. Sparrow as a "junior level" person.
"This was a draft memo by junior-level officials and never made it to any official within the department who had any authority to make policy," he said in an interview.
But according to officials in the Ontario government, the document was well on its way to becoming official policy. A senior Ontario official noted that the federal government does not typically circulate a draft policy to the provinces unless it plans to implement it.
Mr. Milloy also said he assumed the policy change was under serious consideration by Ottawa because bureaucrats began talks with the provinces several weeks ago to include exotic dancers in the job bank.
"It's not someone having a little fun," he said in an interview.
In a letter to Ms. Finley on Thursday, Mr. Milloy says he is "deeply concerned" about the draft bulletin.
"I do not believe provincial government employees should counsel clients to train for a job as an escort or table dancer," the letter says, "nor do I see it as the government's role to assist in recruiting staff for strip clubs and escort services."
News of the proposal sparked outrage among some of the Conservatives' right-wing religious supporters. But those in the adult entertainment business said they would welcome such a move.
Allen Cooper, whose family owns the Zanzibar strip club in Toronto, said many adult taverns have been forced to close their doors because of a shortage of workers.
"They can't get enough girls," he said. "We're one of the busiest bars in downtown Toronto and we still have a bit of a shortage."
Mary Taylor, a former advocate for the rights of exotic dancers, said it is ridiculous that strippers would not be listed in the job bank.
"They are licensed by the city in most places," she said. "It's a completely legitimate job."
Tim Lambrinos, the executive director of the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada, said strip clubs want to be able to list openings for dancers in the job bank because, if there were no responses, it would demonstrate the shortage that exists in many parts of the country. That shortage must be proved before strippers can come to the country through the foreign worker program.
"It's a needed step. It's actually discriminatory that they are not allowing it," Mr. Lambrinos said. "But the political motives have stepped in and it doesn't surprise me."
Meanwhile, New Democratic MP Pat Martin said he found it hard to believe that the minister's office was unaware of the negotiations that had been taking place between Human Resources bureaucrats and the provinces.
"I certainly don't believe that any director or bureaucrat in this administration acts unilaterally," Mr. Martin said.