By: Elizabeth Thompson
Publication source: iPolitics
January 8, 2016
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government should set new rules to govern appointments to Crown corporations to ensure that people are chosen on the basis of merit, not patronage, says Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
“The appropriate approach is that there are merit-based appointments to Crown corporations that come through a body that is not open to partisan pressures and paying somebody off for their service to a party,” May said.
May’s call comes after iPolitics revealed that a former top political advisor for Conservative Industry Minister James Moore landed a lucrative job with a federal Crown corporation in the final days of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government – hired by a board of directors dominated by Conservative party donors.
Colin Metcalfe, who worked for several years as an advisor to Moore — the Conservatives’ political minister for British Columbia — was appointed in August to the brand new position of vice-president corporate affairs for Ridley Terminals (RTI), a coal export terminal that the government has been sole owner of since 1991.
“It’s not as if patronage appointments were invented under the Harper Conservatives,” May said. “But if we’re going to have good people doing the work in Crown corporations they should come through a vetting process that screens out paybacks for service to your party.”
While the president of a federal Crown corporation would normally appoint a vice-president, former president George Dorsey confirms that Metcalfe was hired by Ridley Terminals’ board of directors. He said the position did not exist previously and he said he played no role in the decision.
Metcalfe has denied his new job is the result of political patronage and says he was cleared by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s office to take the job.
May said it was “unusual and inappropriate” for the board of a Crown corporation, rather than the president, to hire a vice-president.
“This doesn’t pass the sniff test but there is a larger policy question of how do we ensure that Crown corporation appointments represent people who bring some competence to the job in a Crown corporation.”
Marc Roy, director of communications for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who oversees Ridley, said the government does not plan to intervene in the Ridley board’s decision to hire Metcalfe.
“The minister and the department have no role in choosing this position at Ridley, a Crown agency,” he said. “All Crown agencies operate at arm’s length of the government.”
Roy’s comments come despite the fact that under schedule III of the Financial Administration Act, which governs Ridley, the Crown corporation is “ultimately accountable through the appropriate Minister, to Parliament for the conduct of its affairs” and cabinet has the power to issue directives to a Crown corporation that the corporation is then obliged to carry out.
Ridley was put up for sale by Ottawa in 2012, but a buyer failed to materialize amid falling coal prices and a market glut. A Feb. 2015 Globe and Mail business piece referred to Ridley witheringly as “Ottawa’s lump of coal.”
Metcalfe had long been known in political circles as the go-to guy for the Conservatives when it came to British Columbia. Former Conservative aide Joseph Soares learned that firsthand when he worked for former Conservative Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon.
Among Soares’ jobs was the task of filling vacancies on several Crown corporations that fell under Cannon. When it came to British Columbia, that meant a call to Metcalfe.
“Appointments? He was all over this,” Soares recalled. “This is bread and butter for political operatives. This is how they get their IOU’s. This is why the system is broken.”
Soares said Metcalfe didn’t have the authority to veto an appointment but he would “give everyone a hard time if we weren’t pushing names that were the ones he felt should be on the list.”
“Every single board appointment made under my time at Transport Canada at RTI were subject to his direct approval.”
Soares said he didn’t have a problem with appointing Conservative supporters to the boards of Crown corporations “as long as they were qualified and capable and brought value to the board.”
Metcalfe, however, was more concerned with rewarding those who had helped the party, said Soares.
“Colin was a very capable and competent political operative and he was always very sensitive to the politics, as I guess he should be. I wish he would have been as interested in good governance. I’m not sure that was always his inspiration.”
Even after he left the transport minister’s office and joined the prime minister’s office, Soares continued to be interested in Ridley Terminals. At one point, just before the government fired Daniel Veniez, the chairman of the board who Soares had helped hire, Soares had a talk with his successor in the transport minister’s office, urging them to stand their ground with Metcalfe.
Soares says he is concerned about Ridley’s direction and the way it has treated two people who turned around what Soares says was a “white elephant” and made it profitable – Dorsey and Veniez.
“I can’t see the rationale of the current board leadership in reverting to a governance model that has proven unsuccessful. The numbers speak for themselves. I don’t know what they are thinking.
“This is a board that has gone completely amok and frankly it is going to cost the Canadian taxpayer.”