Tuesday, August 21, 2012
... especially, when they have a majority government.
Our former Livingstone/Macleod riding MLA Evan Berger is in the news today... and not in a good way.
Evan Berger was deafted in the last provincial election, but was hired by the Tory government only months later.
Photograph by: Calgary Herald , Archive
BY DON BRAID, CALGARY HERALD
Braid: Evan Berger's case needs scrutiny
Even in the soft-landing tradition of PC politics, the case of Evan Berger is a shocker that moves the long era of Tory entitlement into a creepy new zone.
Here's a guy who was an MLA for four years and agriculture minister for five months. In the April election, he got fired by the voters of Livingstone-Macleod, and seemed to be done with government.
But no, the deputy minister who worked for Berger suddenly hired Berger to work for him, in a job with benefits, pension entitlement, and annual pay of at least $120,000.
I can't recall another case of a defeated minister being directly hired by his own department while his office chair was still spinning.
Since the early 1990s, the Conflicts of Interest Act has forbidden ex-ministers from taking any work with a former department for at least a year.
The language is clear - or so we thought.
Berger's gig was cleared by Alberta's ethics commissioner, Neil Wilkinson, on the kind of unexpected technical quirk Olympic athletes pray will move them up the podium.
Section 31 of the Act says it's OK to hire an ex-minister if "the activity, contract or benefit will not create a conflict between a private interest of the former minister and the public interest ..."
What this wiggly language means, given Wilkinson's ruling, is that Alberta really has no cooling-off period at all. Ron Liepert could be hired back by health or treasury. Premier Alison Redford could engage Ed Stelmach to arrange the draperies.
If the PCs get away clean on this one, they might well shoehorn other ex-ministers into lucrative work.
The larger question, perhaps, is whether the Ethics Commission itself is worth anything at all.
Since Wilkinson took office in 2008, there has not been a single formal ethics investigation that led to a report.
In March, Premier Redford tried to get him to look into Gary Mar's fundraiser.
He refused, properly, on grounds that it was beyond his mandate. Mar was cleared by a government investigation instead.
Before Wilkinson became ethics commissioner, his two predecessors - Bob Clark and Don Hamilton - conducted 21 investigations between 1993 and 2007.
Not a single MLA or minister was ever sanctioned for breaching the act. Most of the reports end with some variation of: "As I have not found any breach of the Conflicts of Interest Act, I recommend no sanctions."
In one case, Sustainable Resource Development Minister Mike Cardinal was found in breach of the act when he reopened walleye fishing on a lake where he owned property.
But then-commissioner Clark ruled that Cardinal did it to benefit his constituents, not himself.
My favourite case involved former BanffCochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk, who sat on the Local Authorities Pension Board while she was also an MLA.
The ethics commission goofed - and admitted it - by not telling her this was improper. Clark found that while Tarchuk technically breached the act, it was inadvertent.
That seemed fair. But then Clark concluded that she didn't have to return $4,500 she'd been paid by the pension board.
This ethics commission, swimming in a murky netherworld defined by a flawed act, no longer has much connection with Albertans' common-sense notions of ethics.
We could do without it.
Comment: I've known Evan for some years now and for a conservative I think he did a pretty good job of representing our riding of Livingstone/Macleod, and particularly the Pass. When he was our MLA he was highly visible here, attending parades, dedications, events, socials, etc., etc. (unlike our current MLA who seems to be missing in action, or taking us for granted?). While also actively working with our mayor and council on specific areas of concern to our municipality. In other words, he was a tiredless hard-working MLA who served us well.
However, his appointment to the former Ministry he headed up for a brief 5 months, until losing his seat in the last election, smacks of cronyism and patronage, plain and simple.
The arrogance displayed by our ongoing nightmare of a conservative government here in Alberta for the past four decades or more, because they once again have been given a majority government by the shepple here with short memories, is nothing new. Just more of the same old, same old. The only difference is its closer to home this time, and as a result, the stench is more noticeable.
p.s. I wonder if he will even have to show up for work at the office, or can he just stay at home on our dime, waiting for the next election?
p.p.s. In regards to the above, people may remember the recent revelation that certain members of government, who sat on a particular board that never met/never attending a single meeting in over 4 years, still received a handsome stipend each month regardless.
The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.