In a classic political response to impending catastrophe, Ontario Premier Frank Miller last week clung to his right to make political appointments—just as victims of a fire instinctively grab for valued possessions before fleeing a burning building. Miller, whose minority Conservative government was expected to fall this week in a nonconfidence vote, rebuffed opposition demands that he halt all patronage appointments until the fate of his government is determined. “I am still the government. I should govern as such,” declared Miller in defence of the more than 350 appointments to agencies, boards and commissions that his fragile minority government has made since Ontario’s May 2 election.
The expected end of 42 years of Tory rule in Ontario threw a glaring light on one of the smoothest-running patronage machines in Canada—a machine that has quietly made about 3,500 appointments to 600 separate agencies, boards and courts within Ontario’s jurisdiction. Across Canada similar systems operate, with varying degrees of subtlety and differing monetary rewards, in every provincial capital from St. John’s to Victoria.
Skepticism: While scandals over patronage erupt regularly in the provinces, for the most part the practice is simply a day-to-day fact of life. In Conservative-ruled Prince Edward Island, where federal funding is the province’s largest source of revenue, a local politician recently contacted a firm that had been awarded a federal contract with a list of people he wanted employed on the job. In Quebec, where Premier René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois government has studiously tried to maintain an image of political purity, government contracts and jobs are doled out to PQ supporters. On the Prairies, Alberta New Democratic Party Leader Ray Martin says that “when it comes to patronage, I don’t know if anyone can equal the federal government at the moment. Still, our provincial Tories are trying extremely hard.”
In August, 1984, Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed appointed his clothier, Bryce Nimmo, as the director of his Calgary office. And George de Rappard, a close Lougheed associate who with four others was charged under the Alberta Securities Act in 1984 with falsifying a financial prospectus—the charges
were subsequently dropped—in 1983 became Alberta’s top civil servant at an annual salary of $95,000.
In Ontario, Miller picked his way carefully through his appointments list last week and found a position—worth $117 for each working day—on Ontar-
io’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for James Donald Lang, the former mayor of Bracebridge, the premier’s home town. Miller also unveiled $5 million in provincial loans and grants for a luxury resort in his home riding of Muskoka.
But the premier insisted that he would not “pull a Trudeau,” as he put it, by protecting party loyalists in the final days of his government.
For his part, Ontario Liberal Leader David Peterson, who was expected to replace Miller as premier with the backing of the NDP, promised that under his leadership public appointments would not be “based on friendship or political affiliation.” Yet there was ample room for skepti-
cism. The history of Ontario—as with most provinces—is strewn with failed campaigns against favoritism and patronage dating back to the pre-Confederation era of Upper Canada’s Family Compact. Noted University of Toronto historian and author Michael Bliss:
“Never underestimate the outsider’s hunger for the powers and the perks of office.”
If patronage in some provinces is somewhat less visible than in the past, it
is still openly practised in Atlantic Canada. In Tory Prince Edward Island, the effects of last September’s federal Conservative victory have been so sweeping that at least 20 people across the island ridings have lost their $l,000-to-$2,000-ayear positions as parttime wharf managers, or “wharfingers.” Everett Morrissey, a fisherman from Seacow Pond, was one of those ingloriously stripped of his responsibilities. “I felt real bad,” said Morrissey, who lost the job to his nephew,
Raymond Dorgan, a farmer and a Conservative. “I don’t drink or steal, so it must be because I’m a Liberal.” Provincial Conservatives, who are in power in all four Atlantic provinces, are not inclined to apologize for looking after their friends. When opposition members criticized Jerome Dinn, the mines and energy minister in Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford’s Tory government, for recommending that his student campaign workers receive summer jobs in his department, Dinn proudly replied, “If I am worth my salt, on behalf of my constituents, I should be
doing it every single day.”
In Nova Scotia, Ron Russell, the minister in Tory Premier John Buchanan’s cabinet responsible for Nova Scotia’s Civil Service Commission, admits that party affiliation plays a role in nearly 300 appointments that the cabinet makes and in the as many as 1,000 civil service hirings a year. “If I knew of a position and I was going to recommend somebody,” said Russell, “seven times out of 10 that person would be a member of the Conservative party.”
Unusual: In neighboring New Brunswick, Premier Richard Hatfield’s government was scarred by allegations of illegal fund-raising practices in 1980 after Fredericton lawyer Francis Atkinson was found guilty of bribing a government agent. Since then Hatfield’s government has been credited with improving tendering procedures and legislating limits to political contributions. Still, opposition NDP Leader George Little says that all provincially funded
summer jobs, in addition to positions on public works projects, on highway crews and aboard provincial ferries, are “at the disposal” of Tory members of the New Brunswick legislature. Even in the provincial civil service, he added, “it’s most unusual for someone not on someone’s preferred list to get a job.” Embroiled: In Quebec, politicians still speak in hushed tones of the fabled patronage system of Premier Maurice Duplessis, whose Union Nationale party’s grip on Quebec from the mid-1940s until Duplessis’ death in 1959 was such that provincial policemen only took
highway accident victims to funeral parlors known to support the UN. Since then, according to Louis O’Neill, a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister, the “rules of the game have become a lot stricter.” But Lévesque’s government became embroiled in a major patronage scandal last year. The premier’s chief aide, Jean-Roch Boivin, resigned from his powerful position after newspaper reports revealed that he helped a personal friend, Luc Cyr, to become head of the major repairs division of the Quebec Housing Corp. Cyr then awarded $370,000 worth of work to members of his family.
In the Prairies, critics claim that NDP Premier Howard Pawley of Manitoba has turned the province’s civil service into a haven for displaced socialists. Several dozen New Democrats, refugees from the Saskatchewan NDP government of Allan Blakeney that was defeated in 1982, now work in the Manitoba public service. Conversely,
Saskatchewan’s current Conservative government under Premier Grant Devine has been equally adept at rooting out suspected NDPers. Noted Gary Doer, president of the Manitoba Government Employees’ Association: “It’s almost like a prisoner exchange at the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border after every election.”
In Alberta, Lougheed’s government regularly appoints political supporters to hundreds of positions on provincial agencies, boards and commissions. And Lougheed has a record of showering handsome rewards on his political al-
lies. The premier’s former press secretary, Joseph Hutton, was named to the Alberta Liquor Control Board at a salary of between $50,600 and $64,000 in May, 1980, while Frank McMillan, a former Tory party official, was given a $45,000$49,000 job with the provincial department of economic development. Lougheed’s own behavior has been contradictory. In 1982 he met with former attorney general James Foster to discuss a provincial loan that was subsequently granted to a steel company for which Foster served as a director. But inthe following year Lougheed directed cabinet ministers to “assure no preference is given to any lobbying by former cabinet ministers.”
Alarmed: Across the border in British Colum-
bia, Premier William Bennett’s Social Credit administration regularly appoints political backers to some 700 provincial posts. Among the most recent beneficiaries: Jess Ketchum, a former ministerial executive assistant, and David McPhee, who had worked in the premier’s office. Both men briefly found positions with the provincially-owned Expo 86—Ketchum as vice-president and McPhee as assistant to chairman Jim Pattison. But critics are far more alarmed at the Socred government’s decision last February to take decisions on the hiring and promotion of provincial bureaucrats away from the B.C. Public Service Commission and give that power to cabinet ministers. “Increasingly,” says Gordon Hanson, an NDP member of the legislature, “the Socreds are creating a blur between nonpartisan civil service positions and obvious political appointments.” That is a frustration inevitably faced by opposition politicians across the country.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.