July 28, 2016 8:26 pm
Updated: July 28, 2016 8:29 pm

Premier Stephen McNeil doubles down in defence of Marilla Stephenson hiring

WATCH: In response to documents that show a new top-level position in government was called Marilla Stephenson's before it was posted for competition, Premier Stephen McNeil says the hiring process was "not uncommon" and the process was fair.

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Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says the hiring process that gave Marilla Stephenson a permanent job in the Executive Council Office is “not uncommon.”

Speaking after his Thursday cabinet meeting, McNeil told reporters he has treated “no employee different in the public service.”

“I will tell you we are probably the first government in a very long time to be able to do that,” McNeil said.

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Documents obtained by the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union show that Stephenson, a former newspaper columnist, was consulted on the wording of a job description a month before it was posted.

The emails released through access to information also show one bureaucrat referring to the position as Stephenson’s prior to the job being posted. The job was posted internally to staff in the Executive Council Office and the Office of Planning and Priorities. Stephenson was the only person to apply for the job in May and was awarded the job in June. Her title is managing director of corporate and external relations.

READ MORE: N.S. liberals reject motion to hold emergency meeting on hiring practices

In an email exchange between May 6 and May 9, one staff member asked whether the newly created job could be created against another position in executive council. Another staff member replied, “we cannot put Marilla into the (corporate policy analyst) position.” The email chain went on to say a new hiring process would have to be started for her.

The job was posted the next day on May 10.

McNeil said the process outlined in the emails is “not uncommon, whether it’s a job outside the collective agreement or one in the collective agreement.”

Government spokesperson Elizabeth MacDonald said Stephenson was not offered the job before she had “successfully completed a selection process that adhered to all proper procedures.”

WATCH: The Progressive Conservatives say the ‘fix was in’ to hire Marilla Stephenson, and the NDP say Nova Scotia has “big problems” if the hiring practice for Stephenson is routine. 

Both opposition parties reject the notion that Stephenson’s hiring followed standard procedures.

“The fix was in,” Progressive Conservative finance critic Tim Houston said. “For the premier to say there was no special treatment, it’s laughable. Anyone who writes their own job description is getting special treatment.”

READ MORE: How many journalists does it take to run Nova Scotia’s government?

Stephenson’s first position in government was an 18-month contract with the One Nova Scotia Commission. Following that she was retroactively given a three-month contract doing the same work.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said that three-month contract allowed Stephenson to be in the “very small group of people” who were allowed to apply for the internal posting.

“If this is normal and not out of order and common practice, then we’ve got big problems,” Burrill said.

The Progressive Conservatives are calling for a legislative committee to hold a meeting on the hiring process. The New Democrats support the idea.

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