Backstage: Ottawa

There’s oinking in the Tory barnyard but the sties are filled with Grits

Robert Lewis October 8 1979
Backstage: Ottawa

There’s oinking in the Tory barnyard but the sties are filled with Grits

Robert Lewis October 8 1979

There’s oinking in the Tory barnyard but the sties are filled with Grits

Backstage: Ottawa

Robert Lewis

One reason for the demise of Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals was disgust in the land about their slovenly manners around the public trough. Bryce Mackasey’s seven-year appointment as the $90,000-a-year Air Canada chairman was perhaps the most dramatic evidence that few true Grits went unrewarded in the past 16 years. Parties in power have always used patronage to grease their machinery at public expense, but under the Grits the pork barrel took on the dimensions of a barnyard silo.

Often the more obscure the post, the more outrageous the abuse. Joe Flynn, 58, a lacklustre Liberal MP in Kitchener, was encouraged not to run in the last election—the carrot being a 10-year appointment to the Canadian Pension Commission, where he can earn up to $38,800 a year. Dorothy Petrie was a tireless organizer for the Liberals in Toronto and, for rendered service, now sits on the Immigration Appeal Board. Her term, according to government records, was for a staggering 21 years until 1997, during which time her pay can rise under statute to $46,200. It may only be coincidence that last year she became Mrs. Keith Davey, marrying the 53year-old political rainmaker appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Lester Pearson (salary and expenses per annum until age 75: $34,900).

After their election, the Conservatives slobbered and grew weak in the knees at the prospect of being able to pack boards, agencies and commissions with their political pals. “I believe in an equal opportunity office for Progressive Conservatives,” exclaimed one key Joe Clark adviser. With Parliament opening Oct. 9, the Tories are poised to roll some heads. Clark put defeated candidate Jean Pigott in charge of drawing up lists and finding vacancies. Trouble was, the Liberals didn’t forget to clean the cupboards. They left not a scrap to suggest even the outlines of the Liberal family tree.

In desperation Pigott turned to Clare Wescott, the savant of lists and legends for Bill Davis at Queen’s Park. Wescott gave Pigott helpful suggestions about taking control, then loaned some staffers to the cause. Pigott, meanwhile, leaned on the Privy Council Office and reluctant Crown corporations to provide names of appointed members and

dates of «upcoming vacancies. The fruit of the labor has now ripened between the covers of four yellow-covered books which Pigott proudly presented to Clark in the skies over Northern Ontario on Aug. 22, as the official delegation returned from burying John Diefenbaker. For the first time the PM could linger over details of more than 2,000 positions, which are now his pleasant duty to fill.

However, the bad news is that the pork barrel is full, and the Clark people are staggered by some of the terms of office. At the Tax Review Board, for example, former Liberal justice minister Lucien Cardin has 10 years to go as chairman, with a pay scale that can rise to $65,500. At the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, where the chairmanship is vacant following the nudge the Tories gave Pierre Camu, old Trudeau friend, Jacques Hébert will sit as a part-time commissioner ($255 per day, plus expenses of $75) until March, 1981.

There is, to be sure, some good news for the Tories. There are two openings on the National Parole Board, two on the Anti-Dumping Tribunal, eight on the board of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women—not to mention the honorific allure of the Blue Water Bridge Authority, and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission.

Pigott does not lack for names—in fact with 1,500 of them, she has more supplicants than pews. “This talent bank,” she purrs from a chair beneath her prized collection of miniature pig figures, “is not all Tories. I hope a good number of them will be. But there are a lot of Canadians out there who are not technically involved in partisan politics who should serve.” Pigott vows to remove the RESTRICTED label from “my dear yellow books.” Of the old Liberal patronage system she opines: “It was a pretty closed corporation. By God, mine’s going to be called Operation Fresh Air.”

Despite Pigott’s homey openness, an image buttressed by the office rocking chair and cookie tin, there are grounds for skepticism about the Tories’ willingness to show and tell. Take the case of Ralph Stewart, the Liberal MP who, despite a Trudeau promise of a job on the Canadian Transport Commission, crossed to the Conservatives but failed to win a nomination for the last election. Last week Stewart was cleaning out his papers in Pigott’s shop to take up new duties as Clark’s consul general in Atlanta. Asked what Stewart’s salary and term will be, a Clark aide sputtered: “Oh, that’s too open. I don’t think I could tell you that.O