Nepotism is Alive and Well in NL
By: Ryan Young
It all started with Bill 1. Ah yes, the Liberal’s flagship legislation that was supposed to take the politics out of political appointments. I don’t think that anyone would argue with the spirit of the bill, but the actual legislation seems to be already falling short of public approval. Bill 1 covers the appointments to provincial boards, agencies, & commissions but it does not include core civil service appointments such as Deputy Minister and Assistant Deputy Minister Positions.
This flaw in Bill 1 became glaringly apparent last week when it was made public that 3 core (and highly paid) civil service positions had been awarded to blatant Liberal insiders. Lynn Sullivan, George Joyce, and Paula Buckle were all former Liberal election candidates, Sullivan in 2015, and Joyce in 2011 and 2007, and Paula Buckle (as Paula Walsh) in 1999. This in itself should not disqualify these particular individuals, all of which are certainly qualified, but it certainly should not allow them a fast track into juicy government positions either. If this government was really committed to taking the politics out of political appointments, they should include an open application process for all civil service positions.
On Friday we found out that another former Liberal candidate, Geoff Gallant, has been appointed as the new School Board Election Coordinator. Gallant ran for the Liberals this past fall. He also ran under the NDP stripe in 2011 and reports suggest that he is a close friend and colleague of Education Minister Dale Kirby. That in itself is not an issue per se, but as PC critic David Brazil Pointed out in an article published in the Telegram by James Mcleod, “I don’t know what Geoff’s qualifications are, because, again, we don’t know what they’re looking for, because nobody put out a call for proposals,”
As the aforementioned David Brazil pointed out, the problem is not that the appointees in question are unqualified, it is that there may have been other people more qualified that never had a chance to express an interest in any of the appointed positions. This would have been a great opportunity for the government to open the hiring process at the top levels and prove that they were totally committed to creating a non-partisan bureaucracy. Instead, they decided to appoint people to these positions with blatant Liberal connections. Whether or not these new appointees are qualified is no longer a question of significance in the public eye. All we can see is the same kind of patronage and nepotism that has existed for as long as Newfoundland and Labrador has been a "democracy."
The people of Newfoundland and Labrador were still fuming from the Cathy Dornan patronage spending, when we were hit with the news of the firing of John Ottenheimer from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation. This should have been our first major signal that Ball and Co. were not really serious about their political appointment rhetoric. No doubt, Ottenheimer, a former PC cabinet member and leadership candidate, was appointed to the job by pure patronage by the former administration, but by all accounts, he was very dedicated and was doing a good job in his position of CEO at NLHC. The government’s explanation for Ottenheimer’s dismissal was simply that they “were not satisfied with the way this position was filled in 2015.” Call me silly, but I didn’t think that the spirit of Bill 1 was to remove former PC appointments under jobs covered under the bill, while at the same time appointing Liberal “cronies” to jobs not covered under the bill. If nothing else, it all makes for very bad optics and leaves a bad taste in the public’s mouth.
It is interesting to note that no less than 4 Liberal MHA’s made time to call the open line programs on Friday to defend the appointments. The common theme between them all was that Bill 1 did not cover core civil service appointments, and therefore there is nothing wrong with such blatant political appointments to core government positions. It is true that no part of these appointments violate the actual Bill 1 legislation, but no matter which way the Liberal members wish to spin this, the people are not fooled about the fact that it is business as usual for our current government.
No matter how much rhetoric and spin we hear from the Liberals, actions speak louder than words. At every turn we hear of our government clearing spots at the trough for their own, while publicly patting themselves on the back for taking the politics out of appointments. Sometimes you have to step back and wonder that if they keep saying enough, that they will really start believing it themselves. The truth that we all know in Newfoundland and Labrador, is that nepotism is alive and well…and don’t expect that to change anytime soon.