Cronyism can come with a price
the biggest problem with Premier Brad Wall’s government — the one for which he may pay dearly in years to come — is the rampant cronyism we’re now seeing in his appointments.
And if for no other reason than his own good, Wall really needs to widen his circle of friends. After all, there’s a real danger for a premier insulating himself in this way.
The issue here isn’t so much the laughable outrage we’re now hearing from organized labour over the new government’s audacity in ruining the perfectly balance with appointments to the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and Labour Relations Board (LRB) of people who might have a right-wing bias.
The simple reality with the LRB, in particular, is that it’s always been virtually impossible to find qualified adjudicators that haven’t either exclusively represented labour clients or management clients.
Really, can anyone in labour say with a straight face that former NDP-appointed LRB chairs Gwen Gray and Beth Bilson were perfectly neutral appointments? That labour didn’t have a hand in the demise of former LRB vice-chair Wally Matkowski, who unions deemed to be a bit too management-friendly? That the two vice-chairs removed by the Saskatchewan Party this week didn’t come from labour backgrounds?
And as for the replacement of the WCB chair, on what legitimate grounds do the NDP and labour have to gripe when the person being replaced is former NDP MLA and MP John Solomon?
However self-serving labour’s criticisms may be, its assessment of Friday’s new appointments is downright honest compared with the nonsense from Advanced Education, Employment and Labour Minister Rob Norris that Friday’s appointments of new LRB chair Ken Love and new WCB chair David Eberle were strictly merit-based hirings. (Contrary to the disingenuous babble we are got from Norris and the executive council communications branch that Love has represented both sides, he’s almost exclusively been a management lawyer who hasn’t represented workers unless it was to decertify a union.)
Perhaps far more germane, however, is the personal-political connections that Love (a long-time Conservative and Saskatchewan Party supporter) and Eberle (also a Saskatchewan Party supporter) have had to Wall and party hierarchy.
In fact, it’s part of an identifiable trend — potentially, a discouraging development.
It isn’t so much that Love is seen as a frothing-at-the-mouth union-hater whose appointment as LRB chair is tantamount to a declaration of war. In fact, one of the more rational labour voices I know described Love as someone who is more reasonable than bombastic and not necessarily the worst choice for labour.
What’s clear, however, is that Love, Eberle and a surprising number of other recent government appointments all seem to share some sort of close personal or political connection to Wall or those in his inner circle.
Take last week’s announcement of the Enterprise Saskatchewan Board.
Maybe one can overlook a single appointment like a Gavin Semple, whose companies (Regina-based Brandt Agricultural Products and Brandt Tractor Ltd.) gave a combined $27,218 to the Saskatchewan Party in 2004, while offering a personal donation of $3,000. Maybe one could overlook a second appointment like Craig Lothian (whose companies donated a combined $8,330 to the Saskatchewan Party in the past few years). These are qualified individuals and even the NDP took remarkably little umbrage at their appointments. They are also people who have provided Wall and the Saskatchewan Party inner circle with advice.
Similarly, the appointment of Mark Frison, Cypress Hills College president, to Enterprise Saskatchewan’s education seat has to be a bit of surprise, given the qualified administrative academics at the U of S, U or R and SIAST. Well, Frison happens to be from Wall’s hometown, Swift Current. (By way of interest, the government announced a couple of days after Frison’s appointment that Cypress Hills had merged with Prairie West Regional College. It could be all be coincidence, but ...)
What’s undeniable is an emerging pattern here of Wall appointing friends or associates. It’s hardly unique in governments and maybe not all that nefarious. But it is a little incestuous and that’s never healthy.
After all, what’s great for the friends of the premier is seldom great for the province as a whole.