Doing Nothing For $120,000 A Year (Column On The Need For Patronage Reform By Barbara Yaffe in The Vancouver Sun)

August 26, 2005: Doing Nothing For $120,000 A Year (Column On The Need For Patronage Reform By Barbara Yaffe in The Vancouver Sun)

Doing nothing for $120,000 a year

Barbara Yaffe
Vancouver Sun
(Ottawa Citizen)

Sunday, August 28, 2005

You know there's something wrong with the prime ministerial appointments process when a churlish bully is named to the Senate and an individual lacking any record of meritorious service becomes governor general.

Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell and CBC journalist Michaelle Jean are two recent appointments by Paul Martin that have provided plenty of grist for summertime debate.

Mr. Campbell will receive $120,000 annually to age 75, Ms. Jean $110,000 for five years, tax-free — and sweet pensions shall await both in their declining years.

Now, a third appointment qualifies for boondoggle ranking, but for different reasons.

It was generally felt in October 2003, when Bhupinder Singh Liddar was given a three-year appointment as consul in a soon-to-be opened mission in Chandigarh, India, that he was the right sort of chap for the job.

Mr. Liddar, a magazine publisher and newspaper and TV commentator, was picked by Jean Chretien. His $120,000-a-year pay packet kicked in immediately.

While the consular quarters were being readied, Mr. Liddar returned to Canada to train for the assignment, set to start the following April.

But in March of 2004, the Kenyan-born Sikh was informed his appointment was frozen because of security concerns. He thought perhaps his past relationships with Arab diplomats and work for pro-Palestinian parliamentarians might be the problem.

But to this day, the would-be diplomat has never been told why he was considered a security concern by the Canada Security Intelligence Service, which, it goes without saying, is scary stuff in a free, open democracy like ours.

Mr. Liddar reported he was offered a $60,000 government “package” by the Privy Council Office to step back from the posting, which he refused.

Instead, he filed an appeal to the Security Intelligence Review Committee, civilian watchdog of CSIS. All the while, he has been collecting his $120,000 salary for doing, well, nothing on behalf of taxpayers. But the story gets worse.

In late July, the Security Intelligence Review Committee issued a 20-page, confidential report overruling the security agency, and granting Mr. Liddar security clearance, though such a recommendation is not binding on government.

In early August, there was more heartening news for Mr. Liddar. He received a letter from Peter Harder, foreign affairs deputy minister, granting him security clearance.

Of course, Mr. Liddar at this point wants to depart for Chandigarh. And Opposition MPs are starting to raise questions about whether the appointment's cancellation, all along, was related less to security concerns than politics.

Remember, it was right after Mr. Liddar's October appointment, that Mr. Chretien retired and Mr. Martin became prime minister.

And it has emerged from Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal's famous taped conversations with Liberal operatives a few months ago that the Chandigarh consular job may have been reserved by the current prime minister for B.C.'s Gulzar Cheema.

Mr. Grewal was informed, on the tapes, that, unfortunately for his wife, Nina — MP for Fleetwood-Port Kells — the consular job is being reserved for Mr. Cheema, a one-time B.C. cabinet minister who ran as a member of Mr. Martin's Liberal team in the 2004 election but lost to Nina.

Naturally, Mr. Liddar is not prepared to swallow that little scenario and is dropping hints his lawyer Janice Payne may sue Ottawa if a resolution isn't reached by early September.

So, not only have we now spent nearly $250,000 to pay Mr. Liddar for squat, but taxpayers could be on the hook if Mr. Liddar should pursue and win a lawsuit.

It's also worth asking if Canada even needs a consular mission in Chandigarh, in the Sikh-dominated Punjab.

Mr. Chretien, at the urging of then-cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal, promised the Chandigarh office as a gift to Canada's Liberal-leaning, politically influential Sikh community — over objections from Foreign Affairs.

What Mr. Liddar's sad tale suggests is, none of the actions taken in relation to him were made with any thought whatever for the people who take transit and iron their own shirts.

From start to finish, this is a story about political machinations and patronage rather than concern for taxpayers. Boy, is Canada ripe for change when it comes to political appointments.

Barbara Yaffe is a columnist for the Vancouver Sun.

The Ottawa Citizen 2005