Crony­ism can come with a price

Regina Leader-Post - - Arts & Life - MURRAY MANDRYK

Per­haps

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.

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