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Newfoundland and Labrador cabinet minister ‘grossly mismanaged’ duties in appointment to Rooms job: commissioner for legislative standards

Culture Minister Christopher Mitchelmore speaks to reporters Monday outside the House of Assembly.
Culture Minister Christopher Mitchelmore speaks to reporters Monday outside the House of Assembly. - David Maher

Reprimand suggested for minister Christopher Mitchelmore after Carla Foote given $132,000 post

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Commissioner for Legislative Standards Bruce Chaulk has called for Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Chris Mitchelmore to be reprimanded for handing a position at The Rooms to Carla Foote, daughter of Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote.

Chaulk’s report is an examination of an extensive investigation by the Office of the Citizens’ Representative, led by Citizens’ Representative Bradley Moss. 

“We conclude that Minister Mitchelmore grossly mismanaged his obligations with respect to the Code of Conduct given his involvement in the appointment of Ms. Foote to The Rooms and setting, or permitting to be set, her salary at $132,000,” reads the report’s conclusion. 

In the fall of 2017, the director of marketing and development for The Rooms resigned from the position. In early 2018, then-Rooms CEO Dean Brinton started a job competition to find a new person for the job, which was advertised with a salary of $76,000 to $99,000 per year. According to the report, an undergraduate degree was required for the competition. The job saw 77 applicants, a number of whom held master’s degrees. According to Brinton’s testimony, concern over potential budget cuts at The Rooms led the hiring process for the position to be halted. 

In March 2018, Brinton was contacted by Mitchelmore for a conversation surrounding controversy about a request for proposals that contained an example stating that contractors critical of the Muskrat Falls project would be in a conflict of interest in working with the government. 

The report says Mitchelmore suggested The Rooms would need communications support “and that (Mitchelmore) had someone in mind for the position.” The person was Carla Foote. 

Carla Foote. - SaltWire File Photo
Carla Foote. - SaltWire File Photo

In June 2018, Brinton hired another candidate “with a degree and significant marketing and development experience” on a nine-month contract for the position.

After a board of directors meeting on Sept. 21, Brinton received a call from Mitchelmore and deputy minister Ted Lomond informing him that Foote would be hired in the position and that the position would be elevated to title executive director of marketing and development, and come with an associated pay increase to $132,000. 

Brinton testified that despite his disagreement with the hiring, because it was an order from the minister, he had no choice but to follow through on the hiring of Foote.

A letter by Brinton was issued to the person who initially got the contract for the lower-paying position. 

In testimony provided to the citizens’ representative, executive members of The Rooms board of directors say Premier Dwight Ball offered the position to Foote. The testimony says a meeting of executive members took place in Brinton’s office after the board meeting.

“(Brinton) received a call from the minister (Mitchelmore) and the deputy minister (Lomond). The executive committee stepped out of the room. When they returned they were advised that the minister and the deputy minister had said that the premier had offered Carla Foote the position of executive director of marketing with The Rooms,” reads the report. 

“Ms. Allan (chair of the board) says that she told the deputy minister this was a bad idea and that it would have negative repercussions for The Rooms. The executive committee felt that there was little they could do given that the premier had made the offer to Ms. Foote.”

Ball issued a statement on Monday evening stating he did not direct anyone to hire Foote. 

“I want to clarify that I did not direct anyone to hire Ms. Foote for a job at The Rooms,” Ball said in the statement. 

Ball was in Mississauga on Monday for meetings with the other premiers. 

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball was at the Council of the Federation meetings in Mississauga. — Postmedia
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball was at the Council of the Federation meetings in Mississauga. — Postmedia

In statements to reporters and in the House of Assembly, Mitchelmore has maintained Foote is simply the most qualified person to hold the position at The Rooms.

According to the citizens’ representative, it’s hard to say if that’s the case.

“During his interview, Minister Mitchelmore did not provide detailed evidence as to how the decision to place Ms. Foote in the executive director position was made. No one has provided us with a job description for the executive director position or a resume of Ms. Foote’s qualifications,” reads the report. 

“We have not been presented with any evidence that other candidates were considered. … To suggest that Ms. Foote was the best qualified person for this position is to imply that some sort of comparison had been made of the credentials between Ms. Foote and other candidates. If the position had not been reclassified to ‘executive director,’ a Public Service Commission competition would have ensued.”

In a statement after the report was tabled in the House of Assembly, Mitchelmore says he will apologize. 

“This matter will be dealt with in the House of Assembly and I will apologize. I have no further comment at this time,” reads the statement.

For Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie and NDP Leader Alison Coffin, an apology is not enough. 

"He must resign." — Ches Crosbie

“Does he have a right to remain in cabinet? The answer is a resounding no. This minister has abused his position. He may well have misled the House when we questioned him on this going back over the last year. He must resign,” said Crosbie. 

Coffin also says Mitchelmore should be removed from cabinet.

“This is a grievous error on his part,” she said. “He knew what he was doing and he was directed to do it. I have serious concerns about his ability to carry on as a minister and to do his duties as appropriate.”

Now that Chaulk has recommended a reprimand, the House of Assembly will vote to decide Mitchelmore’s fate. In the past, a reprimand has amounted to a public apology. In a minority government, where the opposition has more votes than the governing Liberals, it remains to be seen what reprimand could be ordered for Mitchelmore. 

Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Alison Coffin belives Christ Mitchelmore should be removed from cabinet.
Newfoundland and Labrador NDP Leader Alison Coffin belives Christ Mitchelmore should be removed from cabinet.

Twitter: @DavidMaherNL


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