Waterloo Region Record

Ford has every right to make his patronage appointmen­ts


Patronage is a bit of a dirty word at Queen’s Park these days. Earlier this summer, when news broke that folks had been appointed to various government positions because of their relationsh­ip with Doug Ford’s then-chief of staff, Dean French, the peanut butter really hit the sandwich. French is now gone, and the premier has ordered a review of Ontario’s public appointmen­ts system.

I believe that the worst time for a government to try to fix anything is in the midst of a self-inflicted crisis. Panic usually produces bad policy. However, if the premier insists on proceeding, let me offer him some friendly advice.

Before doing anything, figure out the problem you are trying to solve.

The Ontario Government is responsibl­e for appointing over 3,000 people to various boards, agencies and other bodies — from citizen advisory committees all the way through to boards of Crown corporatio­ns like the LCBO. This is not necessaril­y a bad thing.

Although some might argue that public servants should undertake this work, there is great value in having oversight and expertise from outside of the government. In addition, by reaching out to certain under-represente­d groups, the public appointmen­ts process can bring diverse voices to the table.

And before anyone gets all huffy about the big salaries paid to these people, do a reality check. Many are volunteer positions or involve a very small per diem.

Public appointmen­ts also serve another purpose. By appointing individual­s with views that align with theirs, government­s can influence the overall direction of the province. This is where some people start to get uncomforta­ble. The idea of Ford trying to tilt Ontario rightward by populating various government bodies with his pro-business, small government, lowtax cronies — many of them with ties to the PC party — makes them cringe.

To all these critics I say: get over it. Ford won the election and has the right to implement his vision as much as an NDP or Liberal government.

As to the partisan background of some of these people? Being involved in politics doesn’t automatica­lly make you a bad person. It usually means you are interested in public policy, are committed to your community and are prepared to give of your time.

This doesn’t give Ford a blank cheque. Having the right to appoint people who share your vision doesn’t give you licence to reward unqualifie­d party hacks looking for a fancy title or folks whose kids played lacrosse with Dean French’s son.

So how do you square the circle? First, the government needs to seriously engage the opposition parties.

Together they need to develop a flexible approach to appointmen­ts that doesn’t see the opposition yelling “gotcha” every time a Progressiv­e Conservati­ve is appointed. In return, the government has to agree to stronger safeguards to ensure that appointees are qualified.

And what are these safeguards? They all involve transparen­cy. Currently, when government advertises a vacancy, the needed qualificat­ions are often vague and informatio­n about the selection process is usually non-existent. Although some appointmen­ts are reviewed by a legislativ­e committee, they can only deal with a small percentage.

We need a much more open system. At the front end, much more detail needs to be shared about the background, experience and expertise needed for each position. At the back end, the government needs to reveal the specifics of how and why they chose a particular candidate.

Green leader Mike Schreiner has made some thoughtful proposals in this regard, focusing on ways to make the system more merit based and accountabl­e.

Patronage is part of our political system and the Ford government has a right to make appointmen­ts. The last few months has made it clear, however, that they could do a much better job.

John Milloy is a former Liberal MPP and cabinet minister currently serving as the director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College and Practition­er-in-Residence in the Department of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University. Email: jmilloy@luther.wlu.ca. A version of this was originally published at QP Briefing.

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