New Brunswick

Liberals accuse Tories of patronage on a contract bid

The Opposition Liberals say they have uncovered another case of patronage by the Alward government, but their criticism isn't exactly non-political either.

Transportation Minister Claude Williams calls Liberals hypocrites

The Opposition Liberals says they have uncovered another case of patronage by the Alward government by bending the rules on a tender for a paving contract.

Liberal MLA Bill Fraser questioned the provincial government on why it allowed a losing bidder on a $2-million asphalt contract to resubmit after the bidding had closed and beat out the lowest bidder, Perfection Paving.

"Does the premier condone such blatant patronage and unethical behaviour?" Fraser asked on Thursday.

Perfection Paving complained to the provincial ombudsman, who recommended the provincial government extend the deadline and allow all bidders to resubmit.

Transportation Minister Claude Williams says he will heed that advice, but calls the Liberals hypocrites on patronage.

"Stop insinuating about politics. They wrote the book on politics," he said.

The company that lost out, Perfection Paving, is owned by former Liberal MLA Rick Miles.

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant has promised that old Liberal friends won't get special treatment if he becomes premier.

Yet his party has chosen to champion Miles during Gallant's first week in the legislature.

Anti-patronage bills introduced

In March, the Alward government introduced two bills drafted by the New Democratic Party to curb some patronage appointments.

One piece of legislation would give the board of NB Liquor the power to hire the Crown corporation's chief executive officer.

The premier currently holds that prerogative and the past three chief executive officers have been political supporters of the government in power.

Under the second bill, departing MLAs would have to wait one year before accepting government appointments.

The legislation is designed to avoid cases such Margaret-Ann Blaney, the former energy minister who quit the legislature to become president of the Crown corporation Efficiency New Brunswick last May.

The position, which comes with an estimated salary and benefits of $200,000, was never posted.

The Opposition Liberals, who have repeatedly accused the Tories of patronage appointments, have introduced rival bills with even stronger restrictions.

The Competitive Appointments Act would require that the CEOs of all Crown corporations be hired through an open and competitive process, said Fraser, who tabled the bills.

The Act to Amend the Members' Conflict of Interest Act would extend the period of time former members of cabinet would have to wait to be appointed to provincial government agencies or Crown corporations to four years, he said.

And the Pension Qualification Act would prohibit the awarding of special pensions to certain deputy ministers and party insiders following a defeat of government.