Public appointments should not be pot of gold for PC insiders
Does the ongoing cronyism scandal rocking the Ford government really matter?
The Premier doesn’t think so.
True, very few people pay attention to the hundreds of public appointments made by the government. Most just want to trust that such decisions are being made with integrity.
That is, until the process starts to smell like an unwashed lacrosse bag.
Don’t get me wrong, every administration has the right to put people in place who will implement their mandate.
This is the machinery of government, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.
I can disagree with Ford’s appointment of an oil and gas advocate to oversee the electricity system, but I cannot object to it on ethical grounds if that person has the qualifications to fill the post.
Trying to completely scrub the politics from government appointments would be a fool’s errand.
But what we’ve seen over the past few months is something quite different — the revelations and resignations have exposed just how vulnerable our public appointments process is to abuse.
So last week, I proposed a set of reforms to prevent a repeat performance.
Will it stamp out patronage altogether? Of course not — but will it deter the government from crossing the line from appointing qualified supporters to outright cronyism?
I think so.
There are two major problems as I see it.
First, our system doesn’t adequately force the government to publicly defend its appointments.
There is far too much runway for someone with insufficient credentials to secure a top job.
Ontario needs to match Manitoba, Alberta, Newfoundland and other provinces that have implemented merit-based criteria in their appointment processes.
I also want the government to make the business case for creating new advisory positions public, which right now are subject to Cabinet confidentiality. If the position truly benefits the province, why not tell us why?
The Premier cannot rail against irresponsible public spending while at the same time being tight-lipped about the generous, publically funded employment opportunities he is creating for his friends and PC elites.
I’m not calling for a bloated process that grinds government appointments to a halt, but I do believe we should be notified that a trade position in New York — cancelled almost 30 years ago — has been restored, especially before we find out the plum job has been given to a 26-year-old lacrosse buddy of Premier’s chief of staff’s son.
The people of Ontario deserve better, let’s make all postings, qualifications, businesses cases and appointees fully transparent.
Nothing to hide? Then open the process up to public scrutiny, I say.
Secondly, we need better oversight mechanisms.
From 2011 to 2015, the legislative committee that oversees government agencies reviewed just 6% of the 2,014 Order-in-Council candidates. And the rules give them just 14 days to decide whether or not to review a candidate.
Clearly they don’t have the capacity to catch every indiscretion.
Which is why I think we need a public complaints process, giving any Ontario resident the ability to raise concerns, with the Integrity Commissioner having the authority to investigate and report publicly.
Knowing they could be forced to defend their actions, the government might think twice about appointing unqualified insiders, donors, and family friends.
Sunlight is always the best disinfectant, and today there is just too much happening with the blinds pulled tight.
Sterilizing government appointments of political considerations might be impossible, and even undesirable — but we can make some practical fixes to restore trust and confidence in the process.
Doug Ford won a mandate to implement his agenda, not turn Ontario’s boards and agencies into a victory party for elite insiders and friends of the PC family.
The best way to put this scandal behind him is for the Premier to fix the process so future governments don’t make the same mistakes.