OTTAWA – Conservative cabinet ministers got to play Santa Claus over the last week, handing out patronage posts to at least a dozen people with Tory ties.
The recipients included failed candidates, ex-caucus members, members of Conservative riding executives and longtime party faithful. While in power, the Liberals also made a habit of naming party stalwarts to federal boards.
Former cabinet minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn landed one of the most desirable posts this week, being named ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris.
His former Quebec caucus colleague Bernard Genereux was named Wednesday to the Quebec Port Authority.
“As a federal representative, I like to have someone who knows our government’s philosophy, its way of doing things and its financial administrative rigour,” Transport Minister Denis Lebel said of Genereux.
Three other failed 2011 Conservative candidates from Quebec have also won appointments as referees on Employment Insurance claims: Jean-Philippe Bachand, Rejean Beriault and Pierre Lafontaine. Former Brantford, Ont. business executive Rick Sterne was also named to this board – he was a Tory candidate in 1984.
Leah Costello, a Vancouver-area filmmaker, event planner and Conservative riding association member, was named a member of the National Council of Welfare. On her blog last March, Costello lauded a book that criticized Canada’s “culture of entitlement.”
“As politicians clearly have no incentive to say no to those who ask them for money, the only hope that we have is to change the culture of popular opinion, which in turn may change the policy platforms from which governments operate,” Costello wrote, advocating for a greater role for the private sector and community groups.
“Perhaps now is a good time for us all to work on those within our circle of influence to encourage more understanding around the appropriate role of government and how everyone would benefit by government pulling out of programs it should not be involved in (and aren’t very good at).”
The National Council on Welfare advises the Human Resources minister on poverty issues.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus condemned the latest wave of appointments.
“For the Harper Conservatives, there’s no better time to announce the appointment of failed candidates, Conservative donors and well-connected insiders to plum, taxpayer-funded gigs than after the House of Commons has risen and in the final days before Christmas,” Angus said in a statement on Wednesday.
Others with Conservative connections have been appointed or re-appointed to federal posts over the last week.
Reginald Bowers was named a member of the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board.
NDP MP Ryan Cleary recently slammed this appointment in the Commons, saying Bowers was poorly qualified to oversee issues of resource management, environmental protection and safety.
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said, on the contrary, Bowers was a good candidate: “The individual in question has decades of experience in regional economic development.”
Gary Valcour was reappointed to the Oshawa Harbour Commission. He is a lawyer, marketing director and member of several national boards. He is also president of the Conservative riding association in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s Whitby-Oshawa constituency.
Ted Salci was appointed a part-time citizenship judge. A former mayor of Niagara Falls, Salci is on the executive of the local Conservative association and is a longtime provincial Tory.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney responded to opposition criticism about patronage at the Immigration and Refugee Board last month by defending the “rigorous” screening process for applicants.
“In fact, I am aware of, I think, two out of 140 who have any association with the Conservative Party, unlike the Liberals who appointed the spouses of members of Parliament, the spouses of Liberal senators and failed campaign managers,” Kenney said during question period.
Remi Racine was reappointed to CBC board. A lawyer, he is a former national secretary of the Progressive Conservative party of Canada. He told a Montreal newspaper in 2008 that he was still a card-carrying Conservative party member with ties to cabinet minister John Baird.
Maurice (Moe) Royer was named to the National Seniors Council. He is a career mediator and a member of the board of directors of the Ontario Progressive Conservative association in Kingston and the Islands.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office said all the appointments are based on merit, with all individuals having relevant experience.