29 July 2015

As Karl’s mom would say… #nlpoli

For all their efforts, the NLHC cleaners couldn't get the smell of bacon out of Len's old seat.The Conservatives came to power in 2003 promising to do things a new way.

People thought that meant the Tories would do away with the practice of stuffing people into fat government jobs based solely on their political connections.

And so the Conservatives proved they were different by appointing failed candidate Joan Cleary to run the Bull Arm Corporation.  Cleary had absolutely no relevant experience, but they owed her some pork and so she got the high-paid job.

Cleary was a disaster, not surprisingly. She exploded in a ball of patronage of her own in 2006, amid revelations she handed a contract to her former campaign manager without even so much as a nod to the requirements of the Public Tender Act.

The Tories favourite practice was to appoint active partisans to positions normally held by impartial public servants.  They stuffed a former party president straight out of the executive of a district association into running the provincial elections office.  As one might expect, the partisan looked after the party’s interests in his new job just like he did in his old one. 

The most notorious beneficiary of the Tory pork barrel since 2003 was Len Simms.  The former party leader took a lovely job in 2005 as the head of the provincial housing corporation.  Again it’s a job normally held by a public servant but the Tories needed a home for Len.  Two years after he took the job, Len resigned to work on the Tory re-election. 

Once the election was over, they gave Len his old job back.  In 20011, Len resigned again.  Right after Kathy Dunderdale re-appointed Len to his old job.  In the news release on Len’s second trip through the revolving door, Dunderdale said that Len’s resignation was in keeping with government policy.  That was a laugh.  Government policy is that public servants shouldn’t be involved in active politics full-stop.

Len wasn’t really a public servant.  He was a political operative stuffed in a public service job.  What Len and his Conservative friends were doing was nothing close to actual government policy. And it certainly had nothing to do with the best interests of the public.  The Tories were just looking after their political friends.  They didn’t bring a New Approach in 2003.  The Conservatives brought back a very, very old approach in local politics.

If anyone thought that Paul Davis was a new kind of politician, they know better now.  Davis announced on Tuesday that he had appointed John Ottenheimer as head of the provincial government’s housing corporation.  The stink of stale bacon grease wasn’t even out of the furniture a year after Simms left the sinecure and Davis has filled the job with another patronage appointment.

Simm’s appointment showed that the Conservatives saw no difference between the public service and their own political associates. That’s had a detrimental effect on the calibre of the public service. It’s also reduced the integrity of the advice provided to cabinet and that has done, in turn, a great disservice to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

We might wonder why it took Paul Davis almost a year to find a replacement for Simms.  After all, Simms packed it in last August.  Ottenheimer lost the leadership in September.  Davis’ announcement on Tuesday is rather conspicuous given that it comes a mere four months before the general election.  That Davis has reportedly given Ottenheimer a five-year contract makes the appointment even more unusual.

It’s almost as though Davis was throwing down a gauntlet to his two opponents.  At the very least, it seems as though Davis was trying to guarantee Ottenheimer would get a five year pay-out regardless of the election outcome.  In the ordinary course,  a new administration might find itself faced with the choice between keeping an obvious Tory patronage appointee or sacking him and facing a lawsuit in which Ottenheimer stood a fair chance of collecting his full five years’ worth of pay.

Davis’ appointment stinks so badly that even Karl’s mom couldn’t wash it clean with a fire hose hooked up to a Hibernia-sized reservoir of Febreze.  The fact that Ottenheimer is well-regarded makes the appointment no better than any of the other patronage abuses of the public trust by the Conservatives over the past decade. 

This is an especially big challenge to  Dwight Ball.  The man most likely to be Premier after the next election should use this as a chance to send a strong message to the dedicated men and women of the provincial public service.  Ball should condemn the appointment for the bad practice it is. Positions like this should be filled by an open, transparent, and fair competition. Ball can distinguish easily between the highly-regarded Ottenheimer and the sleaziness of the Premier’s decision.

Patronage of this sort is wrong, regardless of who the beneficiary is.  .Ball should use this announcement to distinguish between himself and the Premier.

It’s a golden opportunity.

As Karl’s mom would say, it stinks in here.

The only question is whether or not Ball will use the opportunity to set himself apart from his competition both on a matter of principle and one of policy.