Regina Leader-Post

Cronyism can come with a price

- 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.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada