Harper’s patronage list: 1111 Conservative appointments

Image: Stephen Harper By David@Sixthestate.net

A new round of additions has been made to the Sixth Estate Patronage List, reflecting appointment orders made in June 2012. The Patronage List tracks Crown appointments given to apparent Conservative Party insiders, former politicians, and donors. So far this year, 42% of Crown appointments granted to people outside government have qualified for the Patronage List.

When Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were running against the Liberals, they argued that patronage was an unnecessary evil and that Crown appointments, like all government hirings, should be made on a strictly politically neutral basis. Since coming to power, they have quickly learned the time-honoured tradition of rewarding apparent supporters with taxpayer-funded perks.

The Patronage List is not in any way an attempt to besmirch the reputation of any of the people on it: to my knowledge, all of them are competent, ethical, and responsible in every respect. Rather, the purpose of the list is to track decision-making by Cabinet ministers, who at the moment fill approximately 40% of their Crown positions with real or apparent Conservative insiders and donors.

Here are some of the new additions:

  • Jamie Ballem — Former Progressive Conservative Cabinet minister in PEI, appointed to the National Energy Board.
  • Francois Barron — Partner of Conservative 2011 candidate Nicole Charbonneau Barron (Saint Bruno-Saint Hubert), appointed to the National Parole Board.
  • Marni Larkin — Former Manitoba PC strategist and federal PC candidate, joins several other patronage appointees on the CBC board of directors.
  • Remi Racine — Already seated on the CBC board of directors, Racine, the former PC national chair has now been promoted to chair of the state broadcaster.
  • Claude Thibault — Receives his second listing on the Patronage List with a new appointment to the board of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Also receiving a new listing was Tracey DeWare of Moncton, who has become a family court judge.

For the complete list, see here.

As it makes clear, since 2006 the general trend is to hire a vastly disproportionate number of people who have ties to the federal Conservative Party or its provincial allies. Stephen Harper once denounced this system as the Prime Minister rewarding his “buddies,” but while in office has been uninterested in changing it. Instead he has continued to appoint party insiders and supporters at a frenzied pace, even to the Senate, which he once demanded be fully democratized through elected Senators with term limits. Since the May 2011 general election, he has even appointed several losing candidates to the Senate, so that they could have a seat in Parliament anyways after being denied one by the public.

There are only a few hundred thousand actual members of the Conservative Party in Canada, and only a small percentage of them donate more than $200 a year, take charge of a riding association, or personally get involved in politics. So if appointments are non-partisan, how precisely do you explain the following graph:

The Patronage List tracks Crown appointments announced biweekly in the Canada Gazette and published regularly in the Orders-in-Council. It does not include reappointments, or appointments filled by civil servants, military officers, judges, etc. In this way, it tracks only those jobs which are given to those outside of government, theoretically on the basis of merit. You get on the list when you appear to have a connection to the Conservative Party of Canada or its provincial allies — the Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Atlantic PC parties, the ADQ, the Saskatchewan Party, and the BC Liberal Party.

The Patronage List, then, isn’t necessarily a list of people who got jobs through traditional patronage networks. Indeed, if the list was proportionate to the number of Conservative Party donors, insiders and their associates in the general population, that would be a strong indication that there was no patronage. On the other hand . . .  the above numbers, I think, speak for themselves.

I want to stress again that this does not in any way imply that these people are incompetent, negligent, or corrupt in any way whatsoever; it simply establishes that there is a clear pattern by which people who appear to have supported or worked for the Conservative Party receive a disproportionate number of government positions. This story isn’t about Joe Conservative getting a government job; it’s about the ministers giving out jobs predominantly to people who are or appear to be party insiders, supporters, and their associates. Nothing you read here should lower your opinion of anybody on the list. That’s not my intention. Even if every single one of them had got their jobs through dubious partisan shenanigans, which I doubt, they’d still only be doing what almost every one of us has done from time to time: used our personal connections to find work.

No, the people who have a responsibility to stand above this sort of system are the Ministers of the Crown who are charged with giving out Crown appointments on the basis of merit, political neutrality, and transparent and accountable government. They are the ones whose conduct is being called into question here, and if the above chart lowers your opinion of them, well, that’s another matter entirely.

There is, of course, a way to earn my respect. If this or any other government doesn’t hand over a disproportionate number of jobs to apparent supporters and insiders, then instead of being a stain on their record, the Sixth Estate Patronage List could actually document just how good a job they’re doing of keeping Crown appointments neutral and non-partisan. You know, like Stephen Harper promised he would do back when he became prime minister.

In a list this size, and despite my best intentions, inevitably some errors will occur, which is why I want to be especially clear that the list exists to document what appears to be a pattern of preferential hiring by the Harper Government — not a comment on the competence or fitness of the people on the list. In a few cases it is possible that I have identified someone as a donor whereas Elections Canada was actually referring to someone with the same name living in the some town, though in general I prefer to only list uncommon names, or people from small towns, to avoid making a mistake.

Errors or omissions can be sent to SixthEstateCanada@gmail.com and the list will be adjusted accordingly.

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