Patronage Speeds Up In 2008

Patronage speeds up in 2008

Glen McGregor
Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, December 11, 2008

OTTAWA – The Harper government has made more than 500 appointments to federal boards, tribunals and commissions this year, including a batch just after the fiscal update triggered an opposition uproar that threatened to topple the Conservatives.

The Tories have given out 56 per cent more jobs in 2008 than in their first year in office – a fact they attribute to a wave of departures of past Liberal appointees.

The figure does not include the 18 Senate seats, the most coveted of federal plums, that Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to fill before Christmas.

Among this year's appointments were 26 the cabinet pushed through the day after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled his economic statement that led the Liberals and NDP to propose a coalition, supported by the Bloc Quebecois, to replace the minority Conservative government.

The day after Flaherty tabled his update, cabinet named 13 chairs of the boards that adjudicate unemployment insurance claims, and appointed 12 members of the regional tribunals that rule on Canada Pension Plan disputes.

Those appointments followed a flurry of jobs handed out in September, just before the election call, when the cabinet named 44 people to posts on the National Parole Board, the board of directors of the Royal Canadian Mint and other federal bodies, an Ottawa Citizen analysis of cabinet records shows.

In the 2006 election campaign, the Tories promised to establish a commission to oversee appointments and ensure government jobs were rewarded fairly. The proposed Public Appointments Commission was scrapped after opposition members on a House of Commons committee rejected the nomination of Gwyn Morgan, the former oil industry executive Harper selected to lead the panel.

But it was clear that the Prime Minister's Office was in no rush to start dispensing patronage in its first year.

In 2006, they made only 360 appointments. Some complained that delays in staffing immigration boards were slowing the processing of cases and leaving applicants waiting longer for decisions on their immigration status.

By Dec. 4 of this year, the cabinet had made 561 appointments to these types of jobs.

The prime minister's spokesman says appointments are up this year because a large number of vacancies have opened up in three-year-term positions filled by the former Liberal government. In 2005, the last full year Paul Martin was prime minister, the government filled 634 jobs.

“As vacancies become available we fill them,” said Kory Teneycke. “We encourage ministers' offices to keep on top of filling vacancies. Many of these boards and tribunals are very busy.”