Three months after coming to power, the new Liberal government is making political appointments, with no movement yet on a promise to take the politics out of government appointments.
During the provincial election, Premier Dwight Ball made an independent appointments commission one of his signature campaign promises.
He doubled-down on that commitment to take the politics out of government appointments to agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs) in a mandate letter he wrote to himself just after the election.
“This non-partisan commission will take the politics out of government appointments to ABCs and will screen candidates, apply a gender lens and recommend the most qualified people for appointments, adding a much-needed layer of independent review to the process,” Ball told Ball in his Dec. 14 mandate letter.
But three months after the Liberals won the election, there’s been no public movement on the promise, and the government has been making appointments in the meantime.
The cabinet quietly reappointed Iris Petten to a three-year term as Memorial University’s board of regents. When Petten was initially appointed in 2013, then-minister Joan Shea issued a public announcement.
No news release has yet been issued this time around, but Advanced Education and Skills spokesman John Tompkins said they’ll get to it eventually.
“The intent has always been to announce Iris Petten’s reappointment with a news release. We expect to issue soon,” Tompkins said in an email.
Petten was appointed three weeks ago, on Feb 8.
The government appointed John O’Brien as superintendent of real estate agents and salespersons, and registrar of mortgage brokers, on Feb. 1, just three days before he suspended the licence for Exit Realty on the Rock.
The government did not announce O’Brien’s appointment, except to post the official cabinet order online two weeks after the appointment was made.
The cabinet also sacked Milly Brown as associate secretary to cabinet for communications, and Carla Foote was hired in her place.
Foote previously served as director of communications for the Liberal caucus when they were in Official Opposition. She is the daughter of federal Liberal cabinet minister Judy Foote.
Justice Deborah Fry was named as a substitute member of the judicial complaints panel, and a handful of senior managers were shuffled around by the new Liberal government in the core civil service.
It’s unclear whether any or all of these positions would fall under the proposed independent appointments commission; the Liberal party platform never specifically said which positions would still be appointed by cabinet, and which ones would be tackled by the independent commission.
Progressive Conservative Leader Paul Davis took exception to the Foote appointment in particular. He pointed out that the independent appointments commission is the first policy promise in the Liberals’ platform, under a heading, “Take politics out of government appointments.”
“Obviously, the Carla Foote appointment is political. There was no public competition,” Davis said. “The headline is, ‘taking politics out of government appointments.’ Appointing Carla Foote is absolutely not that.”
Davis also pointed out that despite the Liberals’ promises of openness and transparency, there’s been very little public disclosure about the appointments made so far.
NDP Leader Earle McCurdy also had questions about the appointments commission process; who appoints the supposedly independent non-partisan commissioners?
He said part of the confusion in all of this is that the government hasn’t given specifics on what it’s going to do next.
“The election is over now,” McCurdy said. “They won. They’re going to have to start delivering on some of their promises.”
Erin Curran, a spokeswoman for Ball, issued a brief emailed statement to The Telegram.
“Any appointments made over the course of the last few months were urgent in nature and therefore preceded the establishment of the Independent Appointments Commission,” Curran said.
“The purpose of the Independent Appointments Commission will be to ensure the best, most qualified individuals are put into these roles. This remains a priority for the Ball administration, and you will see the work begin in short order.”