First, it was Prime Minister Harper demanding my friend Hill veteran and government spending expert Tim Naumetz ask him a question in a press conference back in the early days of the Harper-Press Gallery stand-off. It was the unveiling of the new Accountability Act, with about fifty journalists and the Prime Minister jammed into a tiny meeting room. Tim hadn't put his name on the Press Gallery questioners list. I was with him that day. We simply didn't see the list and the gaggle of TV types keeping it. So Tim, sitting next to me, put up his hand to ask a question. Harper lunged. Julie van Dusen and the rest of the gallery TV types hissed. Tim didn't know what to do. Harper -- Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper -- kept saying "Tim, ask the question. Tim ask the question!" while behind and beside us were people growling and griding their fangs. Tim didn't ask the question.
Today, it's the Tories misquoting Tim. I was with him this afternoon in the old press room, the Hot Room, when the exchange took place. The question is about the patronage appointment of third-rate journalist and failed Tory candidate Marc Patrone to the CRTC, the body that determines what we get to see in TV and hear on the radio. Tim turned as red as Anne Hathaway's Oscar dress. Now, Tim didn't say the Tories are doing a swell job on patronage, but, hey, who can you complain to?
Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I know that the problem in the House of Commons is that we have people like the NDP who just will not stop attacking people in the media.
Mark Patrone is a first rate Canadian with long experience in broadcasting. He is an example of the capable members that we keep appointing, people who serve their communities as well and who are eminently qualified for the positions they take on. We should be proud of their willingness to commit to help Canadians in that fashion.
As for the NDP members, if they wanted that appointments commission in place they did not have to work so hard to keep it from happening.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I have never heard such a tear-jerking defence of pork barrel.
Let us go back to what Justice Gomery said. He slammed the government for its excuses on killing the public appointments commission. He said that this key aspect of accountability has fallen into a black hole of Conservative indifference.
If we are going to have responsible government in this country we have to drain the swamps of cronyism. Instead we have the government using taxpayers' dollars to give out untendered contracts to party pals. It is using the public appointments process as a massive job creation program for failed Tories.
Why has the government broken this key promise to the Canadian people that it would end cronyism?
Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, on that theme that I was developing a bit earlier I know it is important for us to look to those folks in the media for whom the NDP have a low regard but we in some cases have a high regard and I go to no more than Tim Naumetz of the Ottawa Citizen, who, looking at our appointments, said the following:
That is what our government is delivering: first-rate, qualified appointments, regardless of their background.
Here's Tim's actual story:
Full Text (943 words)
(Copyright The Ottawa Citizen 2007)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has named the Conservative party's former auditor to the board of the Royal Canadian Mint, a onetime domain for friends of the Liberal party that is slowly changing colour along with a host of government agencies and boards under the Tories.
The appointment of retired Deloitte & Touche LLP auditor Carman Joynt is seen by some opposition critics as a reward for service to the party, coming as it did with a half-dozen obvious patronage rewards in a one-day flood of 106 cabinet orders earlier this month.
But it also reflects the mixed approach Mr. Harper has adopted while filling hundreds and hundreds of vacancies on government boards, agencies and tribunals since becoming prime minister in 2006.
Many of those coming in have blatant political connections, but just as many, perhaps more, are going to eminently qualified Canadians.
Even one of the most vocal Liberals on the topic, Montreal MP Marlene Jennings, admits that if the candidate is qualified, political stripe shouldn't count.
Of course, she quickly adds, that was an argument the Liberals consistently employed during their last 13-year stint in office. With a note of irony, she adds the opposition invariably dismissed the defence.
"The issue would not be obviously their political ties if, in fact, they are well qualified for the position," she said. "That was one of the points we attempted to make when the Reform and the Alliance and then the Conservatives would try and smear appointments: that it's not because somebody had been involved politically that that would automatically disqualify them if they're competent in their field."
Mr. Joynt says he was not involved politically, arguing that as the Conservative party's auditor at Deloitte & Touche, he had to stay above the partisan fray to remain independent.
He added that following his retirement from Deloitte & Touche in Ottawa a year ago, he simply put word out "on the street" that he was interested in performing a public service.
"I just told a whole bunch of people and I got a call from the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) saying, could I come and see them. So I went to see them and they said, would I be interested in a board position, and I said 'Yes, I would'," said Mr. Joynt.
As a retired partner after 32 years at the accounting firm, he says he didn't do it for the $400 per diem he will receive on board business. "If I wanted to make some money, I wouldn't go to the mint."
Asked whether it had crossed his mind that acceptance of a government posting from the Conservatives might compromise the image of independence, Mr. Joynt replied: "Not at all."
In the same round of appointments listing Mr. Joynt, Mr. Harper also awarded a government post to the former chief executive officer of Deloitte & Touche, which has been the auditor for the Conservative party and previous Progressive Conservative party since Canada's first federal election-finance law was passed in 1974. Former CEO Thomas Cryer, though, with a distinguished history of public and voluntary service, can only be classified as one of Mr. Harper's eminent choices, notwithstanding the connection his former firm had to the Conservative party.
At least half the appointments Mr. Harper made in the same round have similar blue-ribbon credentials, including Benoit Bouchard, a former cabinet minister for Brian Mulroney who was widely respected on Parliament Hill in the 1980s and also received a government appointment from former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien. Along with eight other distinguished Canadians, Mr. Bouchard became a member of the government's advisory committee on the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
Many of Mr. Harper's appointments -- all are ultimately approved by his office, followed with a cabinet rubber stamp -- were extensions of postings originally awarded by the previous Liberal government, including seven to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Ms. Jennings argues the reappointments ironically confirm the wisdom of the initial Liberal choices.
Others, however, were recipients of the same kind of traditional patronage Mr. Harper once vowed to end with a new public appointments commission to vet all government appointments. Fuming over the rejection of his preferred candidate to head the commission, Calgary energy executive Gwyn Morgan, Mr. Harper shelved the plan. Subsequently, the appointment of Conservatives appeared to increase.
Claude Bennett, the former provincial Tory cabinet minister from Ottawa, became a mint director. But Mr. Harper also reappointed Ghislain Harvey, a former Liberal member of the Quebec legislature first named to the mint board by Mr. Chretien.
In the latest batch of appointments, Leroy Legere, the Nova Scotia Conservative minister of labour at the time of the Westray mine disaster, became chairman of the employment insurance board of referees for the district of Yarmouth. Paul Demers, a former provincial Tory candidate in Sudbury, also became an employment insurance referee.
Brian Marotta of Welland, Ont., became a member of the Canada Pension Plan review tribunal for the region of St. Catharines, but was reluctant in a telephone interview to explain how or why he got the post.
"I didn't work on the election, I did not work on any campaign, I didn't organize anything," he said. "That's all I'm prepared to say."
Duff Conacher, the Democracy Watch critic of what he calls Mr. Harper's failure to implement ethical safeguards once promised in the Conservative Accountability Act, says it does not matter that the prime minister is mixing acceptable, even laudatory, appointments with outright patronage.
"He's being cautious because there have been four news stories about patronage appointments," says Mr. Conacher. "He knows people are watching."
Credit: The Ottawa Citizen