The head of the program designed to give all Islanders a chance at government appointments is defending the appointment of six Liberals to a Workers Compensation Board tribunal.

'We didn't go through it and look for Liberals and look for Conservatives, that's for sure.' — Matt McGuire, premier's office

Participate in P.E.I. was established by the new Liberal government last summer. The idea was to give all Islanders an equal chance for positions on the Island's 75 boards and commissions, and end patronage in those appointments. Those goals were called into question this week when six Liberals were hired for the Workers Compensation Board Appeals Tribunal, some of them without applying for the job.

Matt McGuire, a senior policy adviser in the premier's office, is in charge of the program. McGuire told CBC News Wednesday about 140 Islanders have applied through Participate P.E.I., but only one specifically asked to be on the WCB Appeals Tribunal. That meant appointing people who hadn't applied.

"We're looking for some regional spread, we're looking for some gender balance in the appointments," he said.

"We didn't go through it and look for Liberals and look for Conservatives, that's for sure. The goal's been to make the board as strong as possible, and it's our belief that all the applicants that were approved for [the tribunal] are as strong as we could possibly find."

Sacking a surprise

But just as some Liberals were surprised to hear of their appointments this week, at least one tribunal member was surprised to hear he was being removed.

Mike DesRoches's position on the board was filled by one of the six Liberals appointed earlier this week.

"I got a call yesterday from the co-ordinator of the program saying that I had been replaced," said DesRoches Wednesday.

"I didn't leave."

'Don't try to pull the wool over Islanders' eyes.' — Mike DesRoches

DesRoches freely admits his position was a patronage appointment, coming from a Tory MLA four years ago. He said he enjoyed sitting on the board, hearing cases involving injured workers. When he got the call this week he thought it was to take part in another hearing.

Although he got his position through patronage, he thought Premier Robert Ghiz would keep his promise to eliminate the practice.

"If you're going to call it Participate in P.E.I. or some other fancy name when it's patronage, then don't try to pull the wool over Islanders' eyes," he said

DesRoches also wonders why the government would replace the entire executive of the tribunal all at once, leaving no continuity between old and new members.

DesRoches has no plans to apply for any other positions on government boards. He said there's no point.

CBC asked to interview the premier or the minister responsible for the Workers Compensation Board on this issue. That request was declined.