January 15/2004

View Magazine

The cost of whistleblowing
by Terry Ott

His name is Mike Hilson, and his corporate governance whistleblowing in 1995 — well before it was in vogue — caused a major ruckus not only in these parts, but all across North America.

Hilson, a former acquisitions accountant for Philip Environmental, told the Ontario government’s environment ministry that Philip top executives were “unethical,” and predicted that the company would be insolvent and unable to meet its obligations within a short period of time.

Hilson’s revelations shook stock markets here and in the United Sates, as Philip’s stock imploded.

Although Hilson’s charges of insolvency for Philip would ultimately prove true, and the company was the target of at least two police investigations, he was hit by Philip with a $35 million dollar lawsuit and gag order that would be in place for nearly five years.

And while Hilson appeared on CBC television numerous times, and was the subject of endless national newspaper stories lauding his actions, most of the local media save for VIEW and the Stoney Creek News seemed to portray him as some sort of crackpot or “disgruntled ex–employee.”

Undaunted, Hilson continued to speak out against what was left of Philip and their continued operation of the Taro dump in Stoney Creek, and worked for two years for Energy Probe in Toronto before leaving the area. But even as Christmas has him perhaps a little homesick for Hamilton, he is still shouting “fire” for those who care to listen.

“Hamilton is definitely in for some hard times,” said the 39–year–old Hilson in an interview. “Its infrastructure is falling apart and its debt is rising fast.” “Scarce dollars are being spent on ‘pie in the sky’ projects in some desperate hope that it will stimulate economic growth, which will somehow solve Hamilton’s debt crisis,” said Hilson, who also claims that the Red Hill

Expressway will eventually bankrupt the city. Hilson is not especially a big fan of new mayor Larry DiIanni, whom Hilson sees as a “business as usual” type politician, as well a former political enabler of Philip. “Things will only start to get better when there is a complete change in philosophy,” remarked Hilson, who ran as a federal Progressive Conservative candidate in Hamilton East in 1997.

“Hamilton’s leaders need to take an honest look at the city’s legacy of pollution, corruption, and organized crime and seek help from the upper levels of government to address these severe problems,” said Hilson. “That would involve abandoning its grand plans and opening itself to scrutiny… but I’m not holding my breath.”

As for the corporate governance issues that got Hilson into the maelstrom, now some eight years ago, he says “there’s no magic solution to improving” them. “People are human. Humans are greedy,” observed Hilson. “If they have an opportunity to steal and get away with it, many will.”

“In the United States, people get arrested and imprisoned for ‘white collar’ offenses all the time. In Canada, there’s not much of a deterrent.”

And Hilson is not setting himself up as some Dudley Do Right holier–than–thou muckraker, but rather someone who has been there and done that.

“In hindsight, I would have corrected a few strategic mistakes,” said Hilson regarding his actions. “But I’ll never regret coming forward to report crimes I was a witness to,” said Hilson.

“I had no idea how corrupt and inept some of our government agencies are. But I’d rather know than not know.”

Some people don’t like to hear the kinds of things Hilson is saying. Many of his allegations sting with their accuracy and boldness.

But as Hilson says, it’s probably better that we know, than not know.