Nfld. & Labrador

Liberals' first legislation aimed at removing politics from appointments

Doing away with the political patronage seen in previous government appointments is the goal of the first legislative initiative introduced by the new Liberal government.

Independent appointments commission a first for Newfoundland and Labrador

The Liberal government announced details Thursday of plans to establish an independent appointments commission aimed at taking politics out of government appointments. From left, Andrew Parsons, Premier Dwight Ball and Cathy Bennett. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Doing away with the political patronage seen in previous government appointments is the goal of the first legislative initiative introduced by the new Liberal government.

Government announced plans to create an independent appointments commission during Tuesday's throne speech, fulfilling an election promise to ensure appointments are based on merit rather than political connections.

Premier Dwight Ball gave further details of the plan during a news conference Thursday, just prior to introducing the new legislation into the House of Assembly.

"By taking this action my government will bring greater accountability and transparency to the appointment process," Ball stated.

[It] will assure Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that those appointed are the most qualified people for the job.- Cathy Bennett

"We are modernizing how appointments are made, and clearing a path for the most qualified people to apply for a position, be considered and selected on their merits.

According to Ball, Newfoundland and Labrador will be the only province in the country with a "legislated merit-based appointment process."

Once approved, government will select a five-member commission which will be tasked to observe the highest standards of impartiality in considering all candidates.

The commission members will not receive a salary, and will be paid only for out-of-pocket expenses.

'Fully transparent legislation'

The commission will assess candidates for chief executive officers or equivalent positions in about 30 so-called Tier I agencies, boards and commissions, as well as members of associated boards.

Some of these includes Nalcor, the four regional health authorities, College of the North Atlantic and provincial liquor and housing corporations.

Tier I entities were selected based on factors such as their ability to impact the public, and on the amount of funding they receive, explained House Leader Andrew Parsons. 

The commission will then forward a list of three candidates to cabinet for final selection. 

The names of these candidates will not be made public, the premier stated, in order to protect their privacy.

The premier dismissed suggestions that this will not entirely take politics out of the equation, saying it will be "rare" that cabinet rejects a recommendation of the commission.

He said he would expect commission members to resign if cabinet repeatedly did that. 

"This is fair and fully transparent legislation … that will assure Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that those appointed are the most qualified people for the job," said Cathy Bennett, minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.

A new merit-based process will also apply to appointments for all remaining 128 agencies, boards and commissions, but this wil be managed through the Public Service Commission, which will make recommendations to the relevant minister for approval.

A website will be developed to provide information on membership, terms and vacancies, and allow for online application for vacant positions. Information and appointments will be updated on an ongoing basis.

'Disguise of politics'

There are approximately 250 government appointments each year, and roughly 1,200 positions in all.

These agencies, boards and commissions make up approximately 43 per cent of total government expenditures and 75 per cent of total public sector employment, according to a government news release.

There's a long history of political patronage.

In no way, shape or form does this take the politics out of appointments.- Paul Davis

Most recently, John Ottenheimer was named chief executive officer of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation in July 2015, just nine months after his failed bid for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Ottenheimer, a previous longtime PC MHA, was appointed by former premier Paul Davis, who defeated Ottenheimer and fellow Tory Steve Kent for the leadership.

The PCs went on to lose the Nov. 30 provincial election.

Ottenheimer will make roughly $160,000, and has said he will donate his provincial pension to charity.

Opposition Leader Paul Davis criticized the legislation, saying the commission will have no authority to make appointments, but simply make recommendations that are non-binding.

"In no way, shape or form does this take the politics out of appointments," he said.

"I think what it does is give legislative teeth to make appointments under the disguise of politics."

When pressed in the House of Assembly, Ball fired back.

"If there's anyone in this room that would have experience into putting politics into political appointments, it would be the former premier," said Ball.

"I have not had any experience in that and I will not." he added.

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