By some standards at least, Claude Bennett works too hard. Bennett, now in his second career as chairman of the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., is almost always in the office.When he is not in the office, he is travelling for his job. Since his appointment by former prime minister Brian Mulroney in December, 1990, Bennett has put in more than 1,000 days in the service of the corporation—an impressive total for a person holding what the government considers to be a part-time job. The CMHC has a full-time president, Eugene Flichel, who acts as its chief executive officer, and Bennett describes his job as basically public relations for the corporation.
Critics say that Claude Bennett works too much
'I have tried to approach problems from a Canadian taxpayer’s view’
But his is not a thankless task.
Bennett, a longtime minister in the Ontario Conservative government of Bill Davis, receives not only an honorarium of $6,500 a year and a membership at the Le Cercle Universitaire club in Ottawa, but $375 for each day he works. Last year alone, that added up to just over $100,000 in pay— and a total of $447,000 since his appointment four years ago.
Bennett also travels extensively for the CMHC, going as far afield as Africa and Asia. In the 13month period ending in January, 1994, for example, he received $66,523.13 in travel claims. He is not the only holder of a part-time patronage job to tum his appointment into a full-time occupation with a full-time salary: Canada Ports Corp. chairman Arnold Masters recently came under criticism for a similar arrangement. Federal officials say they have no power to force such appointees to work fewer days for less money. But Reform MP Randy White, his party’s patronage critic, says the situation is open to abuse. “When you go into a per diem situation without a limitation on the number of days,” he said, “the only motivation for the individual and the people making the appointment is to let him work as many days as he wants.” The National Citizens’ Coalition, a vocal opponent of government pork-barreling, also finds the practice deceptive. “Here is something where the public would think it’s not something we’re spending a lot of money on because the head office has a part-time staff,” said coalition spokesman Jeff Ball. “But then when you find out it’s staffed 247 days in a year it seems to be a sleight of hand.” What annoys White even more is that Bennett also receives an annual pension of about $40,000 as a former member of the Ontario legislature. Said
White: “He is collecting two salaries.” Bennett, however, insists that there is nothing wrong with his arrangement. He sets his own hours and decides how many days a year he will work. “I accept on behalf of the corporation any opportunity to represent them wherever that might happen to arise,” he told Maclean’s in an interview last week. According to government documents obtained by Maclean’s, in 1994, to Dec. 12, Bennett billed for 247 days. In 1993, he billed 259 days, which would have given him the equivalent of each weekend off, plus another two days. Bennett, 58, works more days than many people with full-time jobs and he acknowledges that he takes few holidays. “Some weekends might be better spent with my family,” he said, but “I think I have a job to do in trying to help to continue to advance the image of the CMHC.”
Bennett said he has never been asked to work fewer days. He pointed out that his notice of appointment makes no mention of the fact that the chairman’s post is part time. A government document, however, refers in a footnote to the fact that “the chairman of the CMHC is a part-time position.” Bennett’s appointment expires at the end of 1995, and the Liberals apparently intend to let him complete his term. Since they took office in November, 1993, the Liberals have avoided fights with Mulroney’s patronage appointees, preferring in most cases to wait until they leave their posts. Even when the government terminated the appointment of former Tory minister Robert de Cotret as an executive director at the World Bank last November, 1994, he was promptly given a contract with the finance department.
Bennett’s case is somewhat of an anomaly: government officials say that most appointees to about 2,000 part-time federal posts do in fact work only part time. They say there is no widespread abuse of the fact that the government does not set limits on the number of days that such people can work. The government is, however, examining whether such ceilings could be imposed, without reducing the flexibility of organizations, to require part-time appointees to work long hours during a crisis for instance. But Bennett is not entirely alone. Masters, appointed by Mulroney as chairman of Canada Ports Corp. in March, 1992, also bills at a full-time rate, last year working more than 200 days. For the first 10 months of last year, Masters received $61,500, plus an annual honorarium of $35,000.
And then there is the travel. In 1993 and January, 1994, Bennett received $66,523.13 in expenses. In two months, April and September of 1993, he claimed and received $26,483.50 for trips to Africa and Asia. In April, 1993, he led the Canadian delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Settlement in Nairobi, spending one weekend at the Indian Ocean beach resort of Mombasa. It was a weekend retreat, he said, “and while we were there we took the opportunity of doing some of the observation of the housing conditions that prevailed in that part of Kenya.” Bennett also made a $100 donation to an African charity that builds housing for women, and then claimed the amount on expenses.
Earlier that year, he claimed $797.82 to attend the John A. Macdonald dinner at the Albany Club, one of the highlights of the social calendar at the downtown Toronto private club favored by Conservatives. Again, Bennett was unapologetic. It was, he said, an “opportunity to meet the right people—the bankers and the other organizations that we, the CMHC, do business with.” Politicians were also present, he said, but he refused to name them: “I don’t think that’s important, nor is it something that I intend to get into.”
Bennett has been in politics for more than 30 years—first as an Ottawa city councillor, then as a provincial politician—and says he counts himself fortunate that he always managed to find jobs that he enjoyed. And throughout his public life, Bennett says, he has always been guided by one overarching principle. “I have tried,” he said, “to approach problems from a Canadian taxpayer’s point of view.”
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