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PAM FRAMPTON: Cronyism — the rotten core of Newfoundland politics

Culture Minister Christopher Mitchelmore speaks to reporters Monday outside the House of Assembly.
Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Christopher Mitchelmore was found to have grossly mismanaged the hiring of an executive for The Rooms during his time as minister of culture. — Telegram file photo

Smell that?

The odor of rot is unmistakable, whether it’s emanating from the pile of damp, deteriorating leaves in your backyard or Confederation Building.

And there’s something rotten in the state of provincial politics.

Not only did cabinet minister Christopher Mitchelmore grossly mismanage his ministerial duties in securing an executive level position at The Rooms for former Liberal communications director Carla Foote — daughter of former federal Liberal cabinet minister and Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote — but he repeatedly and persistently denied there was anything out of the ordinary about it when questioned by reporters a year ago. This week’s revelations would be shocking were such acts of cronyism not seemingly de rigueur for politics in this province.

“I had made the determination that Carla Foote was deemed the most qualified person to fill that role,” he told CBC in November 2018.

Where’s the documentation to support Mitchelmore’s assertion?

There is none, according to a report by Citizens’ Representative Bradley Moss, which was released this week.

“…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 resumé of Ms. Foote’s qualifications. We have not been presented with any evidence that other candidates were considered.”

I won’t rehash what has already been widely reported, just this: there is evidence that then culture minister Mitchelmore told officials at The Rooms that Foote was moving into a newly created, $132,000-a-year position as executive director of marketing; her salary was so high that the salary of another senior position at The Rooms had to be elevated in order to be on par. Prior to Foote’s appointment, a person had been hired to be marketing director with an $80,000 salary, but that person was shunted aside for Foote.

There are rumours that person is suing the government for wrongful dismissal. When asked about it in the House of Assembly this week, current Culture Minister Bernard Davis had a non-answer ready.

This exchange is from Hansard:

Progressive Conservative MHA Helen Conway-Ottenheimer: “Mr. Speaker, no one on the government's side is talking about the employee who was personally impacted by the decision to hire Ms. Foote. I ask the minister: Is there a statement of claim filed against government by the former employee who was dismissed to make room for Carla Foote?”

Davis: “Mr. Speaker, thank you for the question. I’d just like to talk about some of the positive things that are happening at The Rooms today…”

So, no answers there.

Premier Dwight Ball, meanwhile, is playing his own game of dodge-and-spin.

Asked if the Foote hiring was patronage, he offered reporters this non sequitur: “The position was open at the time. We put in place another executive director, as well. I think both those positions are being filled now by very competent people.” Of course, he neglected to say that the other executive director — who is unquestionably competent and has been there for years — is nonetheless the one whose salary had to be hiked to match Foote’s.

There are rumours that person is suing the government for wrongful dismissal. When asked about it in the House of Assembly this week, current Culture Minister Bernard Davis had a non-answer ready.

Ball did offer one inkling of self-awareness, though — inadvertent as it may have been — when hotly denying he had any involvement in Foote’s hiring.

 “We would not be having this discussion today, let’s face it; even in that report itself, it talked about Carla Foote and her relationship with the LG and the fact she had worked with me.”

Precisely, Mr. Premier.

The Liberals can disavow and deflect all they want, but here’s what matters: a job was created that didn’t exist for a person with deep-rooted Liberal ties — qualifications aside — with the salary manipulated to match what she was already earning in government. The minister and premier both deny any interference, even though officials at The Rooms say the hiring was presented to them as a fait accompli at the behest of Dwight Ball.

Mitchelmore’s tepid apology and two-week suspension are an affront. He should be ousted from cabinet. He and the premier have taken a hit to their credibility.

None of us should be satisfied with politics as usual.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s managing editor. Email Twitter: pam_frampton


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