No contest

Pam Frampton
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Why all government appointments should be scrutinized

Wow. Joan Burke has really mellowed.

It doesn't seem like that long ago she was grilling potential candidates for the job of president of Memorial University and pressing them for their vision of the institution and its relationship with the provincial government.

A couple of years later, when she had been out of the education portfolio for awhile and then was shuffled back into it, she was so confident of her role that she didn't even need briefing notes, preferring instead to "drill down" into the workings of the department through verbal discussions with staff.

But these days, she doesn't seem to have the same bravado. She says she was intimidated by a nasty voice mail message from Liberal MHA Jim Bennett on her constituency office phone - the tone of which was admittedly bullying and bellicose - so much so that she could not bring herself to speak of it for weeks.

And now, instead of boldly plowing ahead with her duties as minister of the Department of Advanced Education and Skills, she has hired former auditor general and failed Conservative candidate John Noseworthy on a lucrative one-year contract to help her figure out how the department should run.

Without so much as holding a competition for the position!

What a missed opportunity. Imagine the interview questions she could have asked. These three questions, trotted out for the presidential candidates in relation to a new governance model for MUN, seem particularly apt in light of Noseworthy's momentous new responsibilities in helping put together a cohesive, streamlined government department: "How would you identify issues related to implementation? What might the barriers be and how would you overcome them? What factors would facilitate success?"

I'd love to hear the answers.

But alas, political appointments don't come in for the same level of scrutiny and transparency as the hiring of mere mortals.

In fact, Burke's brand new department was chastised, in a report of the acting auditor general in January, for just this very thing - having employees on the payroll who had never had to sit through a job competition.

This breaks the rules of the Public Service Commission.

As Telegram reporter Dan MacEachern reported on Jan. 26:

"While Public Service Commission policy allows for the hiring of temporary employees without a competition, there must be a competition held within 13 weeks. But the (acting auditor general's) review found that in more than three-quarters of the files - 32 instances - where employees were hired without competition, there was no competition held within the maximum 13 weeks, and all 32 received extensions from the department, ranging from seven weeks to 11 years."

In the wake of the report, the department promised to take a new approach.

And yet Noseworthy faced no competition for his new job, and ordinary citizens have no way of knowing if he was hired on merit or was being rewarded for his failed bid last fall for a seat in the House of Assembly, or both.

Here's how Burke defended his appointment in the House on Monday:

"Mr. Speaker, no one can argue that Mr. Noseworthy has a unique set of skills. He understands government, the programs of government, and the processes that we follow within government. We want to make sure that we have a department that is set up that helps us meet our mandate, Mr. Speaker, which is to ensure that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have the opportunity to participate in today's labour market in this province. We are at a point where we have never been before as a province. We need to make sure that the department is set up appropriately and that we make sure we channel the funds that we have within that department in the most appropriate manner."

She's right that no one would argue that Noseworthy has a great skill set, at least as an auditor general. Whether he knows much about "ensuring that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have the opportunity to participate in today's labour market" remains to be seen.

It's equally questionable whether paying a former auditor general $140,000 to come in after the fact and try to set up a department that has been up and running for six months is channelling funds in the most appropriate manner.

Particularly at a time when government departments are being examined for possible inefficiencies.

Burke used to like questions, so here are some Noseworthy's appointment has raised:

1) Can't the senior civil servants and the minister for the Department of Advanced Education and Skills figure out how to realign a government department? Don't their backgrounds and skill sets make them uniquely qualified?

2) Why didn't the government figure out how the new department would work before it was created? Wasn't there a blueprint for how the various divisions would dovetail?

3) Most importantly, why doesn't the government commit to holding all its appointments and new hires up to the same scrutiny as lesser-paid public servants who have to go through a job interview process?

What's that you say? It's called patronage?

Precisely. A tired old practice it's long past time we put the boots to.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram's associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at Twitter: pam_frampton


Organizations: Department of Advanced Education and Skills, Public Service Commission

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Recent comments

  • Look Deeper
    March 19, 2012 - 11:06

    What about the spouse of a cabinet minister who got a middle management government job without relevant qualifications or credentials or competition? Look deeper, you are only scratching the surface with the John Noseworthy appointment.

  • Anne
    March 19, 2012 - 07:28

    Great article Pam, please keep them coming. People need to see this stuff in print every week so they can see how sick this Conservative government really is. Mr. Noseworthy should be ashamed of himself that he could be bought for $140K, his whole career will be tarnished by this. Any respect that people had for him has now turned to contempt and the Burke and Kennedy team should give us all a break and just disappear until the next election.

  • Danny Did It Too
    March 19, 2012 - 07:27

    They All do it. Danny Williams appointed PC Party President as Chief Electoral Officer, a job at over $100 grand a year, without competition. Danny Did the same thing for Chuck Furey too. Premier Dunderdale and Shawn Skinner tried to appoint Elizabeth Matthews without competition and got it wrong.They all bloody well do it and it is wrong.

  • Ger
    March 18, 2012 - 18:29

    I am extremely disappointed with Joan Burke and her silly reason for hiring Mr. Nosewothy. The problem is not with him as such, but the fact that apparently, without advertising, he is the only one qualified for this job. This doesn't say very much for the rest of us poor unfortunates. Come on Joan, you WERE a better person than this. Please don't become another Kathy D. or Jerome " I want to be the next premier " Kennedy. 4 years is not a long time- Be your own person. People will respect you for this.

  • Gate Bait
    March 18, 2012 - 09:39

    How many decision Gates were used in Noseworthy's appointment again?I nose! Is there any real difference in this decision and the Muskrat Mine/emeria project? Except how 1 person can benefit from both shallow deals without having to PUT THEIR OWN MONEY INTO IT, after the set up was done of course, and I'm not talking about the mole in the Liberal party either. They should used their own money to profit from instead of the taxpayers. Sure one is cheaper but the government can seem to do anything these days and get away with it, look at what their harper buddies are into. And to see the contempt and lack of respect on conducting the PEOPLES bussiness in the House is cheap and unprofessional. They are being a nuisance to the people who put them there. Then we wonder why our court system as turned into such a joke. Because the same people are running the house. It's like watching one of terri french's commericials of a bad reality show on bad government. Like a donut, big on the outside and hollow in the middle and full a parc we don't need. Where would these politicians be without oil and a quick talking muskrat? Not using the oil revenues to pay for muskrat. They need a Raise and a vacation!

  • MBC
    March 18, 2012 - 08:15

    If John Noseworthy were still AG, what do you think he would say about such an appointment such as this one? I think he has lose a lot of creditability with this appointment. He could have gotten a job with a good salary by following the proper process of a competirion. Burke has shown again competence at the ministerial level and should be removed. She is qualified for what I don't know. She also allowed Jerome Kennedy make her look like a coward and a fool by releasing a private telephone message between Jim Bennett and her politicial staff.

  • Terry
    March 17, 2012 - 09:28

    I agree completely Pam. I used to support Burke. But not anymore. She has proved her incompetentence time and time again. You don't have to look far into her history in politics to see she is not respected by her underlings. They feel intimitated and on pins and needles when she is around. Wow, guess she thinks she's some good!!! Someone needs to tell her is is anything but good. She is nothing more that a self righteous, arrogant, social worker turned politician!!

  • Cyril Rogers
    March 17, 2012 - 09:09

    Well, Ms Frampton, all of the media folk in St. John's lost their journalistic courage during the reign of Danny and who didn't have the nerve to properly scrutinize the dregs of his last administration are now seeing the chickens in a new light, I suppose. It is amusing to me that anybody should be surprised at this. When you and your cohorts damned the opposition with faint praise before the last election, you gave your silent consent to this current group and helped them cement their hold on power. It is not that opposition groups didn't deserve some criticism but the problem, as I see it, is that the government's sins were largely ignored, because it would have taken too much courage to do so. Or, was it that good old investigative journalism was not in vogue? We see the same sudden realization with the Cons in Ottawa and the dawning awareness that the Harperites are indeed dictators. It seems to me that while Premier Dunderdale was seeking her loan guarantee she was also learning to emulate his dictatorial ways. Of course, she had many years before that at the hands of another good teacher.

    • JOe Ryan
      March 18, 2012 - 13:07

      Probably because this current group was an improvement over the liberal crowd that got turfed out.