Harper appointee says Liberal request for resignations a 'bad political game'

The Liberals have asked more than 30 board members and executives appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper on the eve of the federal election to voluntarily step aside. Some say they won't go.

Government House leader calls appointments on eve of a federal election an 'abuse of power'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has asked 33 political appointees, whose terms were extended by former prime minister Stephen Harper before the election was called, to step aside 'voluntarily.' (Reuters)

The government wants Surinder Pal to give up his job, but the Winnipeg real estate appraiser said he isn't about to call it quits.

Pal is one of 33 panel members, executives and others who received a letter from the Liberal government yesterday asking them not to take on new jobs or job extensions. The president of Canada Post, the director of Via Rail and the Veterans ombudsman were also on that list.

All were told they could reapply for their job under a new, more open selection process.

"[It's] just a bad political game, in my mind," said Pal. "They want to put their own people in."

Pal is a member of the Conservative Party of Canada, but argues his appointment wasn't motivated by politics. He's on the payments in lieu of taxes dispute advisory panel, which advises the federal government when it finds itself in a dispute over taxes, such as property taxes to be paid to a municipal government.

Pal said he's extremely qualified for the job, with decades of experience in real estate appraisal and work as a board member of the Appraisal Institute of Canada.

In his case, there's not a cushy job at stake. Work on the panel is paid by the hour, and since he was first appointed in 2013, he said he has been called upon to work only a handful of hours on one case.

"This is basically an insult, in my mind," he said.

"Because they are treating it as a political appointment. They are treating it as if we are not qualified to do the job when we are more than qualified for this job."

Pal's term was supposed to end in February 2016, but the Harper government recently extended it by three years.

Liberals hope appointees will do 'honourable thing'

Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc said the 33 appointments and appointment extensions are an "abuse of power" by the Harper government.

They took place in the dying days of the Harper government under a process LeBlanc said doesn't hold up to scrutiny. 

"We hope that they'll do the right thing and remove themselves from those offices and allow a more open and transparent process to fill those positions."

Letters to the appointees went out yesterday. LeBlanc said he's had some initial responses, but wouldn't go into detail. He also didn't say what might happen to those appointees who refuse to step aside by the government's deadline.

"I don't want to speculate on what the prime minister may decide to do after the 18th of December. I hope and believe many of these people will do the honourable thing and resist this abuse of power from the previous government." 

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said there have been 11th-hour appointments under other governments, meant to deal with vacancies during an election period. She said the Liberals should look at each case individually.

"If they don't think they have the capability to do the job, don't use them."

Mixed results

At least one appointee has already agreed to leave.

The chair of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, Leanne Lewis, will leave her job in February 2016, rather than take on an extension of her mandate.

Her position is a volunteer one.

A spokesperson described Lewis's decision as a "personal" one, made because "she wants the focus to continue to remain on CCSA's good work."

Pal isn't the only appointee reluctant to step aside, however.

Another person who received a letter and who did not wish to be identified insisted the appointment made by the Harper government was based on merit and not politics.

"It wasn't just a politician or MP who called up and said, 'Do you want a job?'" the person reached by CBC News Tuesday said.

The individual isn't prepared to resign and was unsure what power the government had to force the issue.

With files from Tom Parry and Karen Jouhal


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