Thursday, July 2, 2009

Three Years and Poilievre is Still Wimping Out on Accountability

It's been more than three years since the Conservatives rode into power on the promise of an accountability act, and yet they still have not delivered.

Apparently critics were right when they said it was no more that a public relations gimmick, and the fact that Pierre Poilievre actually sought the advice of the U.S. Republican Party before it was drafted, says it all.

Now NDP Pat Martin is suggesting that the entire idea be scrapped, because we are paying to staff an office that only exists on paper.

Of course, the Conservatives are still falling back on the tired 'it was all the opposition's fault', when they rejected a Tory fundraiser to head up the appointments commission. They've got to let it go. They tried to pull a fast one, but it didn't work.

Federal Public Appointments Commission should be scrapped: NDP
The PM abruptly cancelled the patronage watchdog office in 2006, but it has spent more than $1-million since.
The Hill Times,
June 15, 2009
By Cynthia M√ľnster

The government should scrap the Federal Public Appointments Commission because it still doesn't have a promised patronage watchdog and has spent $1-million since 2006, says NDP MP Pat Martin.

The commission and the secretariat itself fall under the portfolio of the Prime Minister and the PMO and his Parliamentary Secretary Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton, Ont.) declined to respond to questions on the subject. When asked in Question Period in May, Mr. Poilievre said the officials within the secretariat are "in the process of establishing this important enhancement in the way appointments are done. Our government came forward with a very qualified nominee to head a review board for public appointments. The opposite decided to play partisan games with that nomination.

As such, our government was unable to fill that position," stated Mr. Poilievre. "We continue to make appointments based on merit and the government is currently laying the ground-work for the eventual establishment of a public appointments commissioner."

Treasury Board President Vic Toews (Provencher, Man.) told Civil Circles he wasn't aware of the state of the appointment or commission. "The only thing I know is the commissioner was rejected by the House," said Mr. Toews.

Calls to the secretariat were responded by Privy Council Office spokesperson Myriam Massabki, who would only say the office is setting the stage for the commissioner's office to be established, while acknowledging they've been doing it for two years.

"I don't have details of what they are doing exactly but their mandate and this is what they are doing, they are currently laying the grounds for the eventual establishment of the commission, I don't have any other detail on that but we have, as you know, the government has appointed a number of qualified individuals to key positions, that was done in the past and continues to be done," said Ms. Massabki.

Once the commission is set up, the secretariat's job will be to assist the commission, "providing policy and operational support to the chair and members." After the House rejected Mr. Morgan's appointment—MPs rejected him on comments he had made on immigrants, questioning the wisdom of multiculturalism—Mr. Harper said it was an "irresponsible decision" by the opposition and his government would need a majority to do that in the future, suggesting he would take it to the polls.

Lorne Sossin, director of the Centre For Professionalism, Ethics and Public Service at the University of Toronto Law School, said the "foreboding" comments worried people in the administrative justice community. "I think many people took that to mean that the Conservatives were going to be scaling back or not moving forward on the pledge to bring greater merit-based transparency to their appointments and that they would go back to business as usual, which has always included factors other than merit," said Prof. Sossin.

He said although a minority government is an "ideal time" to move forward with this kind of initiative because of an overarching need to have government act in some non-partisan ways and acceptable to other parties, he added that "he is afraid" it may take another crisis, "another Gomery-style set of events" to get these changes to happen.

It may also be that the government doesn't want another set of eyes watching its every movement. "You have to live by these institutions once you create them and Harper's disputes with Elections Canada, disputes with the Military Complaints Commissioner, the Nuclear Safety Commission when Linda Keen was there, there's a track record of being fairly abrasive with a number of these outside independent bodies and the appointments process is part of that governmental responsibility to show respect for the independence of these bodies by making sure they get really qualified people who merit the appointments, I see all of these issues as connected around the government's commitment to accountability," said Prof. Sossin.

Liberal MP Alan Tonks (York South-Weston, Ont.), who was part of the committee that looked at the Federal Accountability Act in the last Parliament, said it's an opportunity lost, but not forever.

"It's one that they could address and make that appointment, bring all parties together behind that and follow through on a promise that they made and put an infrastructure in place that transcends politics and whoever is the next government, inherits something that is very strong foundation as a mechanism in the public appointments process," said Mr. Tonks. "Patronage—and I use the term patronage because it was what was originally what the call for a Public Appointments Commission was all about—and patronage has no boundary or monopoly with respect to political party," said Mr. Tonks.

"There will always be charges that individuals are appointed because of their connections, the important thing is not their connections, it's their qualifications and capacity, experience and ability to do the job and the only way that will inevitably satisfy that first requirement, that people are qualified, it's to have an instrument that transcends partisanship like the Public Appointments Commission so it would be wise for the government to follow through on their promise because it's in the higher public interest and it would be wise for us to press it in Question Period with a well-prepared question and a preamble that sort of indicates that this is a very important part of the democratic and Parliamentary infrastructure," said Mr. Tonks.

The Conservatives have shown once again that they are all bluster and no substance, and who better than Pierre Poilievre to prove my point.

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