OTTAWA – Weeks before Stephen Harper named some of his closest Tory friends to the Senate, his cabinet quietly approved a flood of appointments to federal boards that also rewarded party faithful.
At least 20 of the 111 appointments made Aug. 4 went to identifiable federal and provincial Conservative donors and supporters.
That includes a failed candidate in Vancouver, a top organizer with the Nova Scotia party, and a would-be Senate nominee from Alberta.
The postings come with per diems of up to $450 for part-time positions and salaries of up to $118,000 a year for full-time posts.
Some of the bodies involved were: the Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada Pension Plan review tribunals, employment insurance referee boards, the parole board, coastal pilotage authorities, port authorities and museum boards.
Nearly a third of the posts were first-time assignments and the remainder were renewals of three-year terms set to expire in late October or November.
The rush of appointments followed a little-noticed series of judicial appointments to superior courts across the country in July.
That round brought the total number of superior court judges appointed by the Harper government to 201 since 2006.
It also further fuelled opposition claims that the prime minister has abandoned election promises of transparency and merit-based public-service and judicial appointments.
Conservative appointments to courts, boards, quasi-judicial tribunals and Crown corporations now total an estimated 3,000 since Harper became prime minister.
The Tories are also closing in on the Liberals in the Senate after Harper’s appointment of nine senators Thursday, including at least two close advisers.
Several of the earlier judicial posts went to lawyers with Tory connections.
Lawrence O’Neill is a former Progressive Conservative MP from Nova Scotia whose anti-abortion positions were the subject of controversy when he was named to the bench in 2007.
And Ronald Stevens was a member of the Alberta Conservative party, a sitting member of the legislature, and former attorney general, when he was appointed in May.
Harper has yet to establish his promised Public Appointments Commission to set standards and criteria for cabinet nominations to federal posts. That despite the fact that Treasury Board documents show a four-person secretariat set up to support the commission has cost taxpayers a total of $3.6 million since 2006.
Liberal MP Dan McTeague said Harper should be concerned that voters will be wary of him following his failure to deliver on his accountability and transparency promises from the past two elections.
He added that the public should not have to dredge through Google or newspaper clippings to determine if there are political connections behind the scores of appointments the government hands out.
“These were things that were part of his pledge to make Parliament more accountable and the process to be more transparent,” McTeague said.
“He has done everything that he has criticized. I think the prime minister and his team should be well aware of the fact that there frankly isn’t a single pledge they can make now or down the road that the Canadian public can take seriously.”
A spokesman defended the prime minister’s approach, noting Harper shelved the Public Appointments Commission after the opposition parties opposed his nomination to lead the new agency – former Calgary energy executive Gwyn Morgan.
“The opposition decided to play partisan political games with that nomination and, as such, our government was unable to fill the position,” said Dimitri Soudas.
New Democrat MP Joe Comartin called for the creation of a special committee of the House of Commons to review all federal appointments and establish a “code of laws” that would eventually be the standard for public service nominations.
He also called on Harper to expand the jurisdiction of advisory panels for judgeships and re-establish a system set up by the previous Liberal government that allowed the Commons justice committee to interview nominees to the Supreme Court.
Among Conservative supporters or those with Tory connections who received posts or had them renewed in the August round of appointments:
-Lorne Mayencourt, who ran unsuccessfully in Vancouver in the last federal election, was named chair of the employment insurance boards of referees for B.C.
-David Usherwood, who placed ninth as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the 2004 Alberta Senate nominee election, received a second three-year appointment as chair of the employment insurance referee boards in Alberta.
-Geoffrey Machum, who chaired the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leadership convention in 2006, got a second three-year appointment to the Halifax Port Authority.
-Brian Coburn, an Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP under former premier Mike Harris, received a second three-year appointment as a citizenship judge.