Pallister names former campaign manager as head of Manitoba's civil service

Manitoba has a new top bureaucrat in David McLaughlin, who helped lead Brian Pallister's Tories to victory as campaign manager in the 2016 and 2019 provincial elections.

David McLaughlin replaces Fred Meier as head of province's civil service and secretary to cabinet

David McLaughlin is the new clerk of the executive council in Manitoba and secretary to cabinet. (CBC)

Manitoba has a new top bureaucrat in David McLaughlin, whose political experience spans three decades at both the federal and provincial levels, including managing the two most recent Manitoba Progressive Conservative campaigns.

On Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister announced the appointment of McLaughlin as clerk of the executive council and secretary to cabinet, as well as deputy minister for the Climate and Green Plan Implementation Office.

McLaughlin takes up his new duties effective May 20.

"We're fortunate to have him willing to take on the position. He brings with him a tremendous background of experience," Pallister said.

"David's knowledge and expertise in the fields of climate change and sustainable development is well-known across Canada, and Manitoba will benefit from him taking on this additional role of deputy minister leading our province's Climate and Green Plan Implementation Office. [He] is more than qualified to take on this new leadership role."

McLaughlin was once the president and CEO of the independent National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, a deputy-level position in the federal government, and was also director of climate change at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

He replaces Fred Meier as head of province's civil service. Meier is leaving to become president and CEO of Red River College.

Fred Meier is moving on to become president and CEO at Red River College. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

McLaughlin, who was chief of staff to then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1993 and later chief of staff to federal Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty in 2006, helped lead Pallister's Tories to victory as campaign manager in the 2016 and 2019 provincial elections.

He also spent four years in the executive council office of the government of New Brunswick, where he served in various deputy ministerial roles — of policy and planning, of intergovernmental affairs, and to the commission on legislative democracy.

Controversy in 2017

McLaughlin, who is from New Brunswick but has most recently been living in Ottawa, also worked for the province in 2017 as temporary director of communications and stakeholder relations, as well as climate change adviser.

In that role, McLaughlin, who wasn't living in Manitoba at the time, claimed close to $60,000 in travel expenses for flying between Winnipeg and Ottawa and staying in hotels, along with with his annual salary of $133,375.

Asked on Thursday if McLaughlin was planning to live in Winnipeg this time, Pallister said yes.

"He is here now and he is socially isolating to make sure he doesn't infect me or anyone else with his Maritime background," Pallister said, adding that McLaughlin did receive moving expenses, "but no more than any other civil servant would receive."

Pallister was also asked if taxpayers would be covering any travel or commuting expenses this time around for McLaughlin.

"No, not now, not in the future," the premier said.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont chided Pallister, calling the hiring of the former campaign manager "corruption and an unacceptable politicization of the public service."

"The top position in the Manitoba's civil service is not supposed to be a patronage position for the premier to hand out to his friend. The clerk of the executive council and other senior civil servants are supposed to provide fearless and independent advice to elected officials, no matter who is in power," Lamont said in a news release sent out shortly after the hiring announcement.

"It is bad enough that while Pallister is forcing draconian layoffs of thousands of Manitobans, he has now decided to hand a $200,000-plus job to his campaign manager."

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew was also critical of the appointment.

"It's pretty tough for the premier to justify giving his friend a really high-paying, six-figure salary when he's giving out pink slips to so many other Manitobans," Kinew said in a statement. 

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With files from Aidan Geary