The price of power

Roy MacGregor June 24 1985

The price of power

Roy MacGregor June 24 1985

The price of power



Roy MacGregor

This spring, as a single issue grew from soap opera to heated drama on the House of Commons floor, a display of 18th-century English political cartoons graced the National Gallery of Canada two blocks from Parliament Hill. One of the exhibits—a 1740 engraving by an unknown satirist—portrayed then-Prime Minister Robert Walpole bending before the British Treasury with “ye Cheeks of ye Postern” bared. From the rear advanced ambitious young courtiers eager to bestow a kiss. It was a rude comment on a political debate that burns just as intensely in Canada now as it did in Britain more than two centuries ago—the use and abuse of political patronage.

Since Pierre Trudeau stepped down as Prime Minister in June, 1984, and particularly in the months since Brian Mulroney took office last September, patronage has become one of the critical political issues of the day. Almost from the start, Mulroney’s Tories have handed out patronage appointments with a lavishness that has seemed at times to exceed even that of Trudeau’s former Liberal government. In the process, the new administration has focused renewed attention on the complex web of lucrative appointments and payoffs that knit together Canada’s political parties. “Patronage,” declared NDP House Leader Ian Deans last week, “has reached a point of obscenity. The government has lost control of the appointments process.”

Favorites: Under Mulroney, patronage handouts have been promptly dispensed to a spectrum of Tory friends —and relatives. They have ranged from External Affairs Minister Joe Clark’s brother Peter, an Alberta lawyer who was appointed to do the outside legal work for the federal office that is helping to plan the 1988 Calgary Olympics, to Brian Kepie, a failed Tory candidate in Regina in the last election who was named to a position that pays $3,000 in annual fees and $300 a day for sittings on the board of directors of Canada Ports Corp. (Asked about his qualifications, Kepie replied, “I’ve got a sailboat.”) At the same time, 13 Tory supporters were appointed to the Air Canada board of directors, positions which net $300 per day. As well, Fernand Roberge, executive vice-president

of Montreal’s stately Ritz-Carlton Hotel, onq of Mulroney’s favorites when he was a lawyer and executive in that city, not only became an Air Canada board member but has also been made a key patronage lieutenant for Quebec. As such, Roberge apparently approved the selection in March of Joan Price-Winser

as Canada’s new consul-general in Los Angeles. Although the socially prominent 59-year-old Montrealer had had little experience in paying jobs, PriceWinser did serve the Tories faithfully through eight elections as a campaign organizer, and she helped run the Mulroney hospitality suite at the 1976 Con-

servative leadership convention in Ottawa.

Last week Justice Minister John Crosbie complained in Parliament that Opposition MPs were spreading “filth” about members of his family. Indeed, the law firms for which his two sons in Newfoundland work resigned earlier this month from positions as government legal agents after it was revealed that the men were collecting fees from their father’s department. At the same time, a seven-member committee on parliamentary reform composed of Tories, a Liberal and a New Democrat, met at the government lodge at Meach Lake, outside of Ottawa. One of the committee’s tasks was to try to find ways of preserving patronage as a political instrument while making it less open to abuse.

Deceit: To that end, the MPs, under the chairmanship of Conservative James McGrath, spent more than 12 hours hammering out a final report—on everything from the method used to choose the Speaker to restructuring the committee system—which they planned to table in the Commons this week. The report is expected to propose that highlevel appointments be subject to a parliamentary review process resembling congressional hearings in the United States. McGrath told Maclean ’s that patronage was by far “the most difficult thing to deal with in all of our discussions.”

The current controversy began a year ago when Trudeau, in preparation for his own retirement as Prime Minister, issued the first in a series of 225 farewell order-in-council appointments that contributed significantly to the collapse of Liberal election fortunes. Trudeau’s successor, John Turner, was left with a list of patronage appointments to hand out to 17 more retiring Liberal MPs. Claiming that the Liberal appointments were a “fraud, a deceit and a sham,” Mulroney pledged, “It shall never happen again with a Conservative government.” Indeed, some of the earliest Mulroney government appointments were beyond reproach: Stephen Lewis, the former NDP leader in Ontario, was named ambassador to the United Nations, while Calgary businessman Paul Marshall, president of Westmin Resources Ltd., was made chairman of the Canada Development Investment Corp.

Since then the government’s appointments have taken on a more distinct

coloration of political favoritism. In December, 1984, Montreal lawyer Jean Bazin, a Mulroney crony who was co-chairman of the PC campaign in the last election, was named to the board of Petro-Canada. Bazin’s wife, Michele, was appointed to a seat on the Canada Council paying $220 a day when the Council sits, as was Alberta Tory Premier Peter Lougheed’s wife, Jeanne. Then, Michel Cogger, a former campaign aide, became a Queen’s counsel. Former Newfoundland premier Frank Moores, a close friend of Mulroney’s, serves on the Air Canada board. As well, Gina Godfrey, the wife of Mulroney supporter and Toronto Sun publisher Paul Godfrey, is on the board of the National Arts Centre.

Reform:There are at least 3,500 orderin-council appointments that can be made by the Prime Minister, and about 500 are such high-level jobs as ambassadors, judges, deputy ministers and heads of key government agencies. According to the “Patronometer” that is adjusted weekly on the front door of Liberal MP Don Boudria’s Commons office, the Tories have already filled more than 1,200 jobs. They range from the nonpaying posts of Queen’s counsel to the $114,000to-$135,000 annual salary range that Lawrence Hanigan, a longtime Mulroney friend, will earn in the post he took up last February as chairman of VIA Rail.

When it reports this week, the committee on parliamentary reform is likely to recommend that the government follow through on one of Mulroney’s campaign undertakings and establish a screening process for top-level appointments. Under the proposal, those nominated to serve as deputy ministers, as the heads of Crown corporations or on the boards of important government agencies and commissions would be required to appear before a Commons committee to outline their qualifications.

Rich: Even harder to police will be such “pork-barrelling” practices as the awarding, without tender, of approximately $4.7 billion worth of government contracts annually. That includes one particularly rich avenue of government patronage—advertising. Since taking office the Mulroney government has emulated its Liberal predecessor by awarding a $60-million contract to Media Canada, a consortium of loyal party workers headed by Roger Nantel, and another, worth $30 million, to Camp Associates of Toronto. That firm was founded by former Conservative party president Dalton Camp and its current president is Norman Atkins, the tactical wizard who spearheaded Mulroney’s campaign last summer.

Each Friday for nearly a year, Boudria and the noisy young band of fellow

Opposition Liberals known as the “Rat Pack” have handed out in the Commons their sarcastic “paw”—for Patronage Award of the Week—to the Conservatives. Boudria led an attack on Crosbie over his sons’ government work that clearly shook the justice minister. But his persistent assault turned sour last week when Boudria sought unsuccessfully to create a patronage link between

the fact that Crosbie’s sons were doing legal work for both the justice and the revenue departments at the same time that Crosbie’s brother, Andrew, was involved in a dispute with Revenue Canada. Said a clearly infuriated Crosbie: “I think it’s just deplorable beyond belief.” But Boudria stuck to his position, insisting that there was a connection.

Sensitive: The effect of the mounting patronage controversy has, says a Tory insider, made the Mulroney government extremely sensitive to the issue. On the defensive last week, the Prime Minister declared, “In eight months we have appointed more people of non-Conservative backgrounds and nongovernment backgrounds than any other government in history.” But even if the Conservatives’ claims are accurate, the Tories are not likely to escape the consequences of the numerous political appointments which they have made. As well, a source close to the government told Maclean’s last week that another long list of appointments would soon be unveiled as the Tories pursue a strategy of making most of their patronage appointments well before the next election.

Patronage has been an explosive issue

in Canadian politics since the clubby fraternity of the Family Compact in Upper Canada helped to trigger the abortive 1837 Rebellion. Two decades later Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, commented that the “task of the politician is to climb the tree and shake down the acorns.” But his Conservative government fell in 1873 after a controversy arose over Sir John’s

acceptance of private fees from Sir Hugh Allan, a Montreal financier who was showing his gratitude to the Tories for allowing him the contract to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Still, patronage has proved to be an enduring institution. In 1874 Macdonald’s Liberal successor, Alexander Mackenzie, said

life was devoted to dis pensing political patronage.

that half of his working

Currently, within the Prime Minister’s Office Toronto lawyer Peter White serves as special assistant for appointments, using a computer to keep track of candidates put forward by 10 provincial advisory committees (PACs) which feed into a national advisory committee on patronage. The NAC, whose members include Atkins,

Mulroney’s principal secretary, Bernard Roy, national director of the Conservative party Jerry

Lampert and Deputy Prime Minister Erik Nielsen, meets every second Friday to discuss appointments. There are strict security procedures: no one is permitted to take notes, and the NAC members leave all the documents they have referred to in the room when they leave. Originally, White was intended to take NAC recommendations to the cabinet’s powerful committee on planning and priorities. But recently the committee has become so preoccupied with other business that the final decisions on appointments have been going directly to Mulroney for approval.

Loyalty: While critics argue that the Conservatives’ patronage decision-making system has hurt the party, some Tories blame the press for making it a major issue. Camp, for one, a supporter of patronage, calls news media criticism of the appointments “a cheap shot.” He added: “Patronage is part of everybody’s politics. Governments tend to use the services of those who have shown their loyalty.”

But political opponents say that Mulroney and his advisers have still not understood the real nature of the controversy. According to Bill Blaikie, the sole NDP member to sit on the reform committee: “The issue is not patronage. Canadian people understand patronage. What they do not understand is the difference between what Mulroney said in the election and what they are seeing now. The issue is the gap between those two.”

Nepotism: But most Canadian politicians assume that simple patronage is unlikely to be replaced with any more efficient system. Even McGrath himself says that there is such a thing as “legitimate patronage.” But as federal Conservative Leader George Drew observed about patronage 30 years ago: “The rules of conduct are clear. There must not only be an absence of conflict of interest, but there must be no appear-

anee to the public that

there could be any conflict of interest.” And many observers say that by permitting the appearance of excess nepotism, the Mulroney government has come close to crossing that line of restraint. Still, the record of more than a century of Canadian politics indicates that if the Conservatives change their practices in time, the issue may disappear before another election. Otherwise, Mulroney’s Conservatives could, like the Turner Liberals, become a casualty of the historic practice of patronage.^