Nfld. & Labrador

Liberals hire former advisor — without competition — to oversee economic rebuild

Business owners, advocacy groups and organizations have been pushing for weeks for the province to come up with a post-COVID-19 plan, and on Wednesday the premier announced the government had hired someone to lead it. 

PCs unimpressed and uninformed on decision, says Ches Crosbie

PC leader Ches Crosbie questions the province's need for an outside consultant for a post-pandemic rebuilding. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's Official Opposition are crying foul after the Liberal government appointed someone to lead the province's post-COVID-19 recovery — without competition.

In 2015, Paul Mills was one of five people selected by Dwight Ball to advise him as he transitioned into the premier's job, and Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie suggested Mills's Liberal ties are what landed him the job.

"Mr. Mills has a long and well-known history as a friend of the local party," he said. "I hope this is not the Ball government going back to its bad old ways of hiring Liberal friends."

Business owners, advocacy groups and organizations have been pushing for weeks for the province to come up with a post-COVID-19 plan, and on Wednesday the premier announced the government had hired someone to lead it. 

Mills has already started working on a framework for economic and business recovery and is someone who Ball said was the "obvious" choice for the job

An access to information request filed by the CBC showed Mills was also hired by the Liberals in 2017 as senior advisor on the federal government's supercluster program.

The annual salary for that job was $234,000, though Mills's contract was for a little over three months, running June 12, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2017. 

Despite the three political parties working together during the coronavirus pandemic, no mention of the hiring was made to Crosbie.

"Mr Mills, it seems, is the Liberal government's plan to have a plan to emerge out of the economic shutdown and to rebuild our economy.… This is important," he said.

"[Ball] didn't see fit to share that with the committee that he, from time to time, said is working very well together in a collaborative fashion."

During Wednesday's daily COVID-19 update, Ball defended the hiring. 

"Mr. Mills has considerable experience within Newfoundland and Labrador for many decades," the premier told reporters.

Premier Dwight Ball lauded the experience of Paul Mills at Wednesday's daily COVID-19 briefing. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Ball cited Mills's job as the former vice-president of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, his work with Memorial University, and the oil and gas industry.

"He'll be working with the key departments within government and there'll be engagement through those departments with our business community and associations."

There was no competition for the job, which pays $150,000 per year — although Mills's contract, as it stands now, runs April 21 until Sept.30. 

"This is something that he's done before and all that information can be publicly released, of course," said Ball.

"Right now we needed to make sure that we had someone in place with the experience to work and who was well-known within our province."

Construction and trades call from task force

Before Wednesday's daily COVID-19 update, Trades NL and the Construction Labour Relations Association sent out a press release pleading for the province to create a task force. 

CLRA president Terry French said COVID-19 has been devastating for his members.

"It's having a significant impact," he said.

"We saw large construction companies with large numbers of men and women working for them down to the low single digits."

Terry French, seen in a file photo, is the president of the Construction Labour Relations Association. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

French is pleased to see someone in charge of helping the province out of the COVID-19-created financial mess and his group is willing to offer up any help but doesn't want to see a big form of bureaucracy. 

"This is not about a competition as to the best way forward," he said

"This is just about 'let's get it done,' and obviously we'd like to be a part of it because we believe we have something to contribute."

French said Newfoundland and Labrador's construction industry is an economic stimulator that could get people back to work quickly. 

"This is simply about whatever is the best easiest way forward to get the economy moving again and getting our contractors doing work," said French.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Peter Cowan

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