Liberals pepper Alward Tories with patronage questions
Liberals want 'straightforward' minister to speak
New Brunswick Premier David Alward says the presidency of Efficiency New Brunswick was his position to fill as he chose and not a job government would open up to the public for competition.
"The decisions are taken by the premier. That is the reality of every deputy minister that is hired," Alward told the legislature on Wednesday.
"There is no open competition."
Alward has been under fire from Opposition MLAs for two weeks for removing Denis Caron, the deputy minister of environment and local government as president of the conservation agency after two months on the job and handing the position to former energy minister and Progressive Conservative MLA Margaret-Ann Blaney.
Caron had filled the position at no cost as part of his overall duties when the two jobs were merged in March.
Now Blaney, who resigned her Rothesay seat after 13 years in politics, is to be paid about $170,000 a year.
"Yes, that position is required," said Alward.
"Yes, Margaret-Ann Blaney will do an outstanding job."
Higgs confirms hiring restrictions
Finance Minister Blaine Higgs confirmed on Wednesday that Blaney's appointment comes despite government-wide hiring restrictions on the civil service.
But he would not express an opinion on whether Blaney's appointment meets the standards of that policy.
"The hiring freeze is well known throughout government at this point in time," Higgs told the legislature.
"We want them to control them and make sure hiring practices are legitimate and required," he said, speaking only in general terms about hiring restrictions.
'The premier's clearly afraid to let the finance minister speak.'—Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault
Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault has been asking Higgs his opinion of Blaney's appointment for two days in question period, but each time the premier has risen to defend the decision instead.
"I don't want the premier. For once I don't want him to get up," an exasperated Arseneault told House Speaker Dale Graham Tuesday as Alward intercepted question after question to Higgs about the Blaney issue.
"He doesn't get to pick and choose who answers questions, Mr. Speaker," replied Alward.
"The premier's clearly afraid to let the finance minister speak," said Arseneault.
"The premier's scared because that particular minister is known for his straightforwardness."
Higgs has been an outspoken advocate for changing old-style politics in New Brunswick and Liberals are convinced he is unhappy with the Blaney appointment as he wrestles with the $183-million deficit, tries to chop 1,500 civil service jobs and shrink the number of deputy ministers in the next three years.
Last winter, Higgs openly criticized his own party's election promises as excessive and short-sighted and publicly blamed patronage appointments for nearly ruining the province's electric utility, NB Power.
He said people constantly said: "'I just need a job at NB Power.'
"Well the reason NB Power has had the problems it has is because we all found a job for [someone] at some point in time - that has to change."
Reporters asked to speak with Higgs following question period on Wednesday, but were told he would not be made available.
Arseneault contends that is a sign the finance minister and premier are at odds over the Blaney issue.
"When you let the minister of finance speak what he feels, he'll tell it like it is," Arseneault said.
"We all knew what those answers [about Blaney] were going to be and that's why the premier popped up once again."