New Brunswick

Head of public library service resigns after controversy over qualifications

Kevin Cormier's controversial appointment as the executive director of the provincial public library service ended Monday with his resignation.

Kevin Cormier's suitability as executive director of province's 64 public libraries questioned from Day 1

Kevin Cormier resigned Monday as executive director of the New Brunswick Public Library Service. (Kevin Cormier/Facebook)

Kevin Cormier's controversial appointment as the executive director of the provincial public library service ended Monday with his resignation.

Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Trevor Holder, who is responsible for libraries, made the announcement during a short-notice, late afternoon conference call.

Cormier "feels that this, with all of the uncertainty that's happened … is in the best interests of the library system and the people that work within the libraries, and the best decision for himself," Holder told reporters.

But Cormier is not leaving government. He will return to the Executive Council Office, where he was prior to this appointment, and will be working in marketing and communications, Holder said.

The government's decision to put Cormier in charge of the province's 64 public libraries in February, despite an apparent lack of library training or experience, has been the focus of a widespread public discussion since CBC News reported on his appointment.

Holder said somebody from within the library system "with the appropriate qualifications" will fill the position on an acting basis.

"Then we will post the job again moving forward and we'll take time to make sure that we get it right."

Although the job that pays up to nearly $114,000 a year was originally posted as an open competition, Cormier was appointed to the position through the corporate talent management program.

It provides current and aspiring executives in the upper pay bands of government with opportunities to further develop their competencies within or outside their current department.

Labour Minister Trevor Holder announced Cormier's resignation during a conference call. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

In March, amid accusations of political patronage, Holder announced a review of the program, but it was put on hold "for a considerable period of time" because of the COVID-19 crisis, he said Monday.

The review has now been completed and a report is being sent to the government for a response, which Holder expects within days.

"I look forward to hearing what the outcome and recommendations are as a result of that review," he said.

Asked whether the timing of the report is related to Cormier's resignation, Holder said they're "completely separate issues entirely."

'Distraction' not fair to staff, public

Cormier could not immediately be reached for comment.

But he did email a memo Monday to library staff, a copy of which has been obtained by CBC News.

"I know my joining the team has, at times, been a distraction due to the public attention and speculation my appointment has garnered.

"While I have hoped to be able to move past this and demonstrate what we can do together, it has become clear that is not likely possible. This is not fair to you or the people we serve," he wrote.

"I have nothing but the utmost respect for you all, for what [the library service] provides to New Brunswickers and for what it stands for."

Master's degree was listed as 'essential'

The job posting listed "essential qualifications" as a master's degree in library and/or information studies from an American Library Association-accredited program, as well as a minimum of eight years of related work experience.

Cormier's LinkedIn profile lists his education as a single year at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto in 2005 and two years at the Moncton Flight College, from 1998 to 2000.

Prior to working in the Executive Council Office, he was the chief executive officer of Kings Landing Corporation, the historical settlement near Fredericton, for about seven years.

Holder could not say whether Cormier applied or was asked to apply to be head of the province's library system. He reiterated he wasn't involved in the process.

I think going forward it's going to be very clear that the degree will be part of the qualifications.- Trevor Holder, minister in charge of library service

"I wasn't part of the conversation that obviously that led to the talent management program being used. That was a decision of the department of human resources in conjunction with the deputy minister of my department at the time," he said.

"I suspect we will find out through that review process whether or not this was in fact an appropriate use of the talent management program."

Holder said it will be up to his department and human resources to decide upon the criteria for the new executive director, but "it's been pretty clear through this process that there certainly have been some calls for someone with the appropriate degree background."

"I think going forward it's going to be very clear that the degree will be part of the qualifications."

'Take their time'

He suspects they will "take their time" filling the position.

"That would be certainly my encouragement, to take their time to get this right, to make sure that we get the best qualified person to take the libraries into the next generation," he said.

"That has been the goal all along, to modernize our library system and to make sure that we have an accessible, dynamic library system in New Brunswick."

Predecessor pleased

Cormier's predecessor, Sylvie Nadeau, who served as the provincial librarian and executive director for 20 years until her retirement in December, was pleased to hear Holder's comments.

"I would like to thank and congratulate the minister and the premier for making this commitment and recognizing the importance of the position and of the required qualifications," she said.

In April, Nadeau had called on Premier Blaine Higgs to order an in-depth independent review of Cormier's "incomprehensible" appointment and the "profoundly flawed" process.

Sylvie Nadeau, who led the provincial library service for 20 years until her retirement in December, wrote to every municipal council in the province where a library is located, urging them to write the premier to request an independent review of Cormier's appointment. (Submitted by Sylvie Nadeau)

She said she knows of at least two "highly qualified" and fluently bilingual internal candidates who were interviewed for the job.

They both hold a master's degree in library and/or information studies, have up to 20 years of experience at high levels of management and are fluently bilingual, she said.

Eleven people applied for the job, government officials have said, but they declined to reveal whether any of them were interviewed, or to disclose any information about their qualifications, citing privacy.

"New Brunswick Public Library Service is an important branch of government overseeing and managing the strategic development and day-to-day operation of the network of 64 public libraries in the province, including its virtual services. It must be led by a person with the required competencies," said Nadeau.

No reply to RTIs

She has not yet received responses to her Right to Information Act requests to the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour and to the Department of Finance and Treasury Board about the recruitment process.

She wants to know who wrote the ad when the job was initially posted as a competition last fall, who approved the ad, who selected the candidates to be interviewed, and who conducted the interviews.

Holder said he doesn't understand the controversy.

"I don't ever remember a human resource issue with this much attention in my 20 years in public life," he said.

"This was a civil servant that had served in a number of capacities and was moving on to another one. It was as simple as that."

Cormier was appointed only a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but "there were certainly no concerns from within the department about the work he was doing at all," said Holder.

"I know this has been a very trying time for Mr. Cormier and his family," he said, adding that he wishes him well.

Cormier said in his memo he'll be returning to the Executive Council Office, effective July 13.

"I joined the civil service more that 15 years ago to do my part to help make New Brunswick a better place and that remains my objective today," he wrote.

He will "continue to use and support" the library service, he added.

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