We told you about this last July when Paul Davis appointed political operative John Ottenheimer to replace political operative Len Simms as head of the provincial government's housing corporation. After the Ottenheimer appointment, Davis and the Conservatives kept going with the questionable appointments. The swap of the chief judge in Provincial Court remains highly suspicious and unexplained, as does the sudden firing of the High Sheriff. The former is one the new Liberal administration genuinely could not do anything about. The former High Sheriff is now suing the provincial government for wrongful dismissal.
The Liberals could have and should have done something about all the others. It was a way of setting a new tone for their administration and demonstrating that things that are wrong cannot stand. For some unknown reason, Dwight Ball would not commit to reversing the Ottenheimer appointment - on principle - when Davis made it a year ago. When he took office, Dwight Ball decided to leave not only Ottenheimer but all the other Conservatives appointees in place. And when he unveiled the new appointments commission, Ball had a third opportunity to set a new standard for government appointments by getting rid of the old, wrong ones.
Now, Ball has punted John Ottenheimer. We do not know why. No one from the provincial government did any interviews. The minister responsible for the housing corporation issued a news release announcing Ottenheimer's replacement. Everything else that we know - including the size of Ottenheimer's severance - came from Ottenheimer himself.
If you are scratching your head, then you aren't alone. Until now, Ball and his people have met every comment about these appointments with a couple of simple lines: it will cost too much to get rid of them or we can't get anyone to replace them. Neither was ever true and by firing Ottenheimer, Ball has proved it.
So what gives?
No one knows. Neither Ball nor anyone else in the administration is saying anything about the decision to get rid of this blatant patronage appointment. The Conservatives have been quick to toss around words like "firing without cause", a phrase that reminds everyone of Ed Martin, another Tory patronage appointee Dwight Ball refused to dismiss. The Conservatives have also been quick to claim that by getting rid of a blatant patronage appointee, the Liberals have done the people of the province are grave disservice.
The truth is that - even if it is just this one case - the Liberals were absolutely right to get rid of not merely the stench but the daily visible presence of patronage left from the previous administration. They did the right thing. They took seven months but at least they finally took a small, tentative step down the right road. This is not a question of John Ottenheimer himself. He is a decent man who has contributed greatly to the province. What was wrong was the way Davis put Ottenheimer into this notorious position after a pattern of similar wrong behaviour by his political cronies since 2003.
Last summer, Dwight Ball said he would review the Conservative appointments and reverse the ones he found inappropriate. It may have needlessly taken him seven months to get around to it but at least he has dumped Ottenheimer, finally. Had he done so in December, when he should have and could have, Ball would have saved the taxpayers thousands in unnecessary severance. But at least he has turfed one patronage appointee out of his sinecure.
Will more follow?
Let's hope so but only time will tell.